The slow-moving minimalism of new Argentine cinema finds its poet and master in Lisandro Alonso, whose mysterious journey upriver in “Los muertos” follows very similar lines to his feature bow, “Freedom.” Here, the hero forgoes his existential solitude to seek human companionship at journey’s end, but the ending is open to many interpretations. This elegantly concise work, which certainly induces a meditative mood, will confirm Alonso’s unusual talent for a limited circle of admirers, but will need special handling and critical support to reach the larger arthouse crowd.
Immersed in the natural beauty of a forest, a gently moving camera establishes pic’s otherworldly rhythm before revealing the bodies of two dead youths. Cut to an aging man (Argentino Vargas) living his final days of confinement in an open-air prison. Released at last, he’s deposited on a country road by a police car. He’s on his way to see his daughter, who lives on an island somewhere up-river.
His subsequent journey, which takes up the last hour of the film, is depicted as a series of totally natural events and the satisfaction of some basic human needs: eating, buying a gift, visiting a prostitute. When he reaches the river, a man is waiting for him with a rowboat. Only now is his crime casually revealed — but not its motive.
An atmosphere of mystery surrounds his solitary voyage to the island, a kind of Eden before the fall, where food just appears when it’s required and hospitable people are always around to offer shelter and directions. Where all this leads is up to the viewer to decide. Overall, the film seems more rhythmic than metaphoric and as much “about” the experience of watching it as it is about freedom, time or death.
Though filmed in shallow focus and restful 35mm, camera work exhibits the freedom of a DV shoot, particularly evident in the long opening shot. A sensitive sound mix replaces music until the end credits, when a noisy tune bursts out raucously, as if to bring viewers back to the ordinary world.