DVD: Los Muertos (Alonso, 2004)

I saw Lisandro Alonso’s newest film Liverpool in the Toronto Film Festival last September and didn’t think much of it. Given all of the positive reviews it has gotten from people I trust very much, I decided that I just wasn’t in the right mood to see it. I had something very particular that was lingering on my mind for a few days, and it proved to be a very huge distraction from such a slow-paced film that relies on the viewer’s ability to contemplate the film in its open spaces and long stretches of plotlessness, and I filled those gaps with something totally unrelated to the film and its themes. So I will have to see Liverpool again (though, given that only one of his films is available on DVD with English subtitles (Los Muertos), it might be awhile before I have another opportunity).

So I decided to check out Los Muertos, since it was available to me, and also happens to be Alonso’s best reviewed film, at least until Liverpool showed up. Despite being comparably paced to Liverpool, I was very much engaged and compelled throughout the entire film, especially in the final 15 minutes. All of this was even more surprising to me since I started watching the film while I was already a bit sleepy and tucked into my bed, approaching midnight. I credit most of this to the great opening of the film, a single take that stakes a sturdy and gripping enough foundation to sustain my attention for the first 45 minutes where not much happens and not much is explained.

Alonso makes great use of his setting in the forests that surround Vargas, the protagonist. With bright green trees in every direction, the forests are alive in a way that makes the film’s title (in English, The Dead) come off as an ironic joke. As when the forest blows out into a solid green matte at one point, Vargas could almost be confused to be walking in front of a green screen.

As in Liverpool, the core of the film seems to be about the reunion that occurs between family members who have been separated over great lengths of time. The last shot, lingering on a seemingly insignificant object belonging to Vargas’ grandson, is both a symbol of the life he indirectly is responsible for, and is the first memento he has in which to associate with his new attempt at a family.