LOS MUERTOS (Lisandro Alonso, 2004)

In the course of the opening continuously moving shot through jungle the camera reveals two slaughtered beings on the ground and, following that, the slack arms of their killer. A cut to a man asleep reveals that we’ve just finished watching a dream. The man is Argentino Vargas. (I say Argentino because the actor playing him is named Argentino Vargas.) Argentino is 54; today is his last full day in prison in Corrientes. Who knows how long ago for who knows what reason(s) Argentino murdered his two brothers. Someone brings this up; he responds efficiently, “I don’t remember; I have forgotten.” But we know from his dream that he hasn’t.
     Writer-director Lisandro Alonso’s absorbing, very fine Los muertos (a.k.a. Sangre) follows Argentino on his way home, with a few detours (including to a work-at-home prostitute who lewinskies him), but with minimal encounters and hardly any dialogue. The “home” to which Argentino is headed is his grown daughter’s. Alonso films the journey, first by truck and then by boat, so that sometimes the camera is up ahead. The river journey, long and slow, requires patience; but shots that place the camera up ahead suggest the depth of Argentino’s anxious anticipation. He aims for the future because nothing is left for him in the past. One wonders to what extent Argentino symbolizes Argentina.
     Along the way Argentino grabs a goat off a river bank, slaughters, eviscerates and cuts it up: a riveting passage reminding us that he is a killer and that he will reach his destination bearing the gift of meat. He knows what to do in the jungle. (Earlier, we watched him smoke out a beehive for honeycomb.) But how will he fare with his two grandchildren, whose existence he apparently did not know about?

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