Los Muertos (The Dead)

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Facets Multimedia

NEW YORK -- As oblique as it is visually stunning, Argentine new wave director Lisandro Alonso's "Los Muertos" is likely to tax the patience of all but the most forgiving of viewers. This vague tale of a newly released ex-con trekking through the jungle is marked by an elegant visual style and barely there narrative. The film, which recently played at New York City's Anthology Film Archives, is best appreciated as a beautifully photographed, minimalist meditation on the relationship between man and nature.

That relationship is not always harmonious as a lengthy, graphic scene depicting the actual slaughter of a goat vividly demonstrates.

The central character is the middle-age Vargas (non-pro Argentino Vargas), who has been sprung from prison after serving a 20-year sentence that may or may not have to do with the two young boys whose butchered bodies are shown in the opening scene. While journeying by boat in search of his daughter, he engages in various activities, including sleeping with a prostitute and stopping to buy clothes.

That's about it for the narrative, with the director indulging in long, leisurely takes and a general refusal to provide much in the way of context or information. The results are generally frustrating, with the various symbolic elements failing to provide much in the way of emotional resonance.

And yet, there are times when the film does exert a certain hypnotic power, not to mention an air of mystery that is undeniably intriguing. While not fully successful even on its own terms, the film does demonstrate the reasons for its director's growing reputation on the festival circuit.
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