Why This Director?: Super polarizing, which is always a good thing.
My Last Experience Was…: N/A
What Did I Watch: La Libertad, Los Muertos, Fantasma, Liverpool, and Jauja. Short running times are a good motivator for getting me to watch your whole filmography (and it’s why I dropped Lav Diaz at the last minute).
Where Does He Fit: La Libertad translates to Freedom, and once you have seen about ten minutes of the film, you can sort of guess where it’s going with that title: ironic statement (with the super peppy opening credits music being the best joke retroactively). Misael Saavedra, who has only starred in Alonso’s films, plays a man who is initially shown eating something rather unpleasant looking in the middle of an approaching storm. No grand revelation to come here, he’s revealed to be a woodcutter in the very next scene, but absolutely nothing happens beyond him going about his day’s work for a certain period of time, and thus, you can read into it whatever you want. (It’s only an hour, so don’t complain.) Despite the fact that it makes you think on what freedom is, and the landscape and sounds are so relaxing that I find it awfully hard to see why someone would outright hate this barring a problem with slow cinema in general, I’ll confess that it’s really more of a short that gets stretched out to a lengthy duration to make a different point. That’s fine, and I deeply admire the fact that this withheld dialogue until the halfway point, but ultimately I’m inclined to call this a good start rather than something special in its own right.
Los Muetros operates on a very similar wavelength, which is unsurprising, but the opening shot is a stunner, featuring a bunch of dead bodies and a machete in one very gorgeous and long shot. We know that the main character is the killer eventually, but it’s still not clear if he is in a prison even when there’s vague conversations about leaving (the legal way, not escaping), as there’s an unusual amount of libertad going on for something like this. The same aesthetic of long stretches without conversation or a clear plot takes hold, but there’s more to notice here than his debut in that regard. Freedom comes by much harder here, especially with Vargas (playing himself) going on a lengthy canoe ride to, as it turns out (big plot spoiler in its own way coming up), to find his daughter in a even more remote area. I wish I had seen this in better quality, but it looks pretty damn gorgeous, and while it will undoubtedly alienate those who do not enjoy this type of thing, I find it fascinating, a mission statement for a new brand of cinema that dilutes his old aesthetic down to something stranger and harder to pinpoint.
There appears to be some confusion online over whether Fantasma or Liverpool is the third installment in Alonso’s trilogy, but having just seen Fantasma, it’s clearly either the former or actually a quadrilogy. The woodcutter and the convict return again, but I must say that there’s something very…silly about Vargas watching the premiere of Los Muertos in the movie theater. It’s a homage to Tsai’s Goodbye Dragon Inn, apparently, to which I say: didn’t that cinema show the film of another director? I don’t want to just yell “pretentious!” and dismiss the entire work, for there’s good stuff in here in how obsessed he is with what is off screen and in how he explores the space, but really: if you’re going to pay homage, can you at least do something a little…oh, I don’t know. I don’t want to hem him in, but this feels like a bad middle ground of the extremes that the two prior works occupied, not to mention it wipes out the ambiguity of whether La Libertad was real or fake (although I never really saw it as the former). At least no animals are killed for food in this one? (This reads very negative when I merely found it disappointing.)
Liverpool, another one watched in annoyingly bad quality that still looked gorgeous, sticks with the insane loneliness of the first three but in a setting that is decidedly urban (no, a movie theater with five people that’s playing Los Muertos as they all avoid each other does not count). Here, we start off on a boat with the people in charge of maintaining it saying very little at all as they make their way through, shooting the shit occasionally and drinking while making vague comments. Standard Alonso, then, but this film being designated as the end of the trilogy makes more sense even if I’d argue it’s a quadrilogy at this point. Lonely men travel, and it is not entirely pleasant. La Libertad was somewhat freeing even if the character was living day to day. The convict simultaneously found what he was looking for and failed at it. Liverpool is an outright tragedy, with this particular individual being just…ignored. His life is out of his hands like the character in the video game at the start, knocking on wrong doors and getting lost. The images feel outright manipulated this time around as we once again look for a family member, this time the man’s mother. This is a deeply sad movie but the emotions are hidden away. Los Muertos’ tropics give way to freezing, mean cold.
And now we come to Jauja. It’s been whispered that this was different from the past Alonsos, but still, it’s a shock to see things like characters that speak in full sentences, a running time well over ninety minutes, and a plot that has some complexity to it after a full day of very vague statements about people living their boring lives in unspoken misery. If his first three films were him mapping out a stretch of land, and Liverpool having just a shade more plot was him looking as if he was going to hesitate jumping off the cliff, then Jauja is his leap into the void, looking like a slideshow at every step thanks to the frame shape and unusual shots. And most shockingly: he turns out to have a really good and weird sense of humor, a Roy Andersson with a fondness for color. Watching this in Blu-Ray quality was enough argument to at least get the three wilderness films onto better transfers, as the sky positively reverberates with blue, yet it is what is offscreen that really matters most of the time, right down to the story starting off as a search for a missing individual.
Most Valuable Asset: Time.
Most Excited For: His next film.
Coming Up Next: The newish provocateur in town, Harmony Korine.