Dir/prod/scr/ed:Lisandro Alonso. Argentina. 2004. 78mins

Bewareof promising beginnings bearing false hopes. That would seem to be the lessonto be drawn from Los Muertos, the second feature from Argentiniandirector Lisandro Alonso. Alonso's debut feature was the memorably stultifying LaLibertad (2001), which lovingly covered the working life of a ruralwoodcutter. Los Muertos signals some progress in terms ofcharacterisation and even the possibility of something approaching a story.

Itis a small step in the direction of one day creating a film that an audiencemight pay to see, but Las Muertos is still enigmatic enough to make theSphinx seem indiscreet by comparison. Festival programmers might champion it asan example of pure-and-simple film- making but anyone else is likely to bescratching their heads and expressing silent gratitude for the mercy of a briefrunning time. The film played in Directors' Fortnight at Cannes.

Thepromising beginning of Las Muertos takes places in an atmospheric forestsetting. The camera glides through trees and vegetation as we hear twitteringbirds and glimpse the dead bodies of two infants. It is reminiscent of theopening of Lantana, with a vague hint of a journey into Werner Herzogterritory. It is arresting enough to make you want to know who the bodies are,what happened to them and what happens next.

Thestory we follow is that of Antonio Vargas, a 54-year-old prisoner who seems tobe at peace with the world and respected as a father figure by his fellowinmates. We never know why he has been in prison or how long he has served. Wedo discover that it is November 2003 and he is being released. He buys bread,cigarettes, sweets and a blouse for his daughter Olga, although he no longerknows her size. He has joyless sex with a woman. He then begins a long journeyto deliver a letter and visit his daughter who lives in a remote area ofswampland. He rows his boat. He drifts in the current. He takes honey from thebees and captures a goat that we see him slaughter and disembowel in graphicdetail. Eventually, he reaches his journey's end and the home of Olga and hertwo children.

IfHollywood films are frequently criticised for spelling everything out andlacking subtlety, then Los Muertos is guilty of taking too much forgranted and spelling nothing out. It is difficult to conclude whether Vargas isa heartless killer or a grieving parent and we are left to make our ownconclusions on his past actions and current motivations. Press notes for thefilm declare that a deep mystery surrounds him, but it is not a mystery thatthe film is prepared to share or elucidate.

Photographedby Cobi Migliora, the film does have a rich, inviting look and makes somethingintriguing from the prison, the forest settings and the riverbank locales, butif all we wanted was picturesque views then we would switch on the DiscoveryChannel.

Prodcos: 4 L,Fortuna Films, Slot Machine, Arte France Cinema
Int'l sales:
F For Film
Exec prods:
Vanessa Ragone, Florencia Enghel
IlseHughan, Marianne Slot
Main cast: