From this week’s “What, They’re Finally Releasing That?” file comes Lisandro Alonso’s eminently quiet, supremely disquieting lazy drift upstream Los muertos. I caught this at, I believe, a 2005 Film Comment Selects series (though my mind hazy, it could have easily been the 2004 edition…), so forgive me if I’m suddenly taken slightly aback to see that it’s getting a minor debut this Friday at downtown Manhattan’s Anthology Film Archives (with The Wayward Cloud, On the Bowery, and many other else-forgotten gems visiting its screens this spring, Anthology’s been a veritable bounty of movie orphans lately). The Argentinean Los muertos (its title, which needs no translation, forbodes greatly over the film’s brief entirety) is Alonso’s sophomore feature (after the NYFF–selected La libertad ) and was much gabbed about some years back by those who engorge on international festival coverage and who like a healthy slab of art-house minimalism as much as a good roll in the hay—or both, as in the case of Apichatpong’s similarly languorous but ultimately less jarring Blissfully Yours….ah, Apichatpong…wait, what was I saying, focus, man, focus . . .
Alonso’s film has the sway of a daydream but the forward motion of a nightmare: a middle-aged convicted murderer, recently released from prison, wanders silently through the jungle, his mission (if there is one) vague to us. He has a daughter with whom he may reunite, and he has a letter he must deliver to fulfill a promise made to a fellow inmate. With these faint traces of plot, Alonso simply follows him as he goes ever deeper into the forests and rivers that will take him to his destiny. Joseph Conrad might approve, but there’s more sunlight than darkness here. To call it atmospheric would be an understatement: all we have here is environment and how this man, outside of time and law, functions within it. The closest thing to a narrative marker is his slaughter of a goat, shown in uncut real time.
Of course, I barely remember most of the film now, but every so often I think of it and wonder how it’s doing, like an old friend who blows into NYC once every couple of years, meets you for coffee, and is gone, leaving just a trace of an impression. Glad to see it’s visiting the city for a few days, and I would encourage anyone to drag themselves to 2nd and 2nd to take it in. My ad-blurb pull quote: “Awesome long takes! Hauntingly unstructured! It’s like drifting through someone else’s subconscious for 78 minutes! If you prefer the way light dances off of a dirt ground to narrative closure, don’t miss Los muertos”