SUR (Fernando Ezequiel Solanas, 1988)

Fernando Ezequiel Solanas led the Argentinean cooperative that made the epic “guerilla” documentary The Hour of the Furnaces (1968). That monmental film pulsates with brilliant energy. As a result, South, Solanas’s post-military dictatorship work of epic fiction, comes as a distinct disappointment—this, despite the prizes it won for Solanas: best direction at Cannes; best film at Havana. It’s an amiable mess.
     In 1983, the end of Argentina’s military dictatorship, which began in 1976, results in political prisoner Floreal’s release. Reluctant to go home, where his wife, who he knows has committed adultery, waits for him, Floreal spends the night wandering in Buenos Aires. Among those whom he meets are phantoms—those whom he once knew who are among “the disappeared,” that is, dissidents whom the military police murdered. Floreal’s memory of a city slaughterhouse, with its hanging animal carcasses, fails to convince.
     Some of Solanas’s imagery is striking—for instance, wind-blown litter that conjures the specter, in long-shot, of lost children. But Solanas, here, cannot leave well enough alone; there are simply too many shots throughout of wind-blown litter. Poignancy thus deteriorates into poetical mannerism. Compare John Ford’s spare, poetic use of such litter in The Long Voyage Home (1940).
     Poetical, also, is Solanas’s use of color, especially selfconsciously haunted blues, including nearly iridescent blue. Solanas way overdoes punctuating expanses of darkness with patches of blue and even, ridiculously, has Floreal’s blue jeans glow.
     Nor is the film all that original. It leans heavily on Fellini, in particular, I vitelloni (1953), which had its own surreally populated, wind-blown streets at night, as well as Bernardo Bertolucci’s Il conformista (1970), with which it shares both visual motifs and an anti-fascist theme.
     A Greek chorus of sorts is supplied by periodic performances of tango music, both song (Roberto Goyeneche, no less) and dance. But this attempt to tighten the film’s structure draws attention to just how loose, almost to the point of slackness, most of the film is.
     Like Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” Solanas’s film expresses the need to move forward. Floreal, like the rest of Argentina, must stop obsessing on the past and help revive the nation. But getting out the message, however sincere, takes a bit too long.

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