DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
MAN FACING SOUTHEAST (HOMBRE MIRANDO AL SUDESTE) (director/writer: Eliseo Subiela; cinematographer: Ricardo de Angelis; editor: Luis Cesar d'Angiolillo; music: Pedro Anzar; cast: Lorenzo Quinteros (Dr. Julio Denis), Hugo Sato (Rantes), Ines Vernengo (Beatriz Dick), David Edery (Hospital Director); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Lujan Pflaum; New World Video; 1986-Argentina-in Spanish with English subtitles)

 
"Enigmatic Christ parable that's set in a mental institution."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Eliseo Subiela ("Last Images of the Shipwreck"/"Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're Going"/"The Adventures of God") directs with utmost solemnity this enigmatic Christ parable that's set in a mental institution. It's a retelling of the Christ story through an alien savior, in a pic that tries to persuade us that anyone else playing the Christ card in the modern world would meet the same fate as Christ (even if our modern day cross might only be the unnecessary use of deadly medicines). 

Sober-minded psychiatrist Dr. Julio Denis (Lorenzo Quinteros, a theatrical actor and director) is frustrated because he no longer believes he can cure the mentally ill patients he deals with in a large mental hospital in Buenos Aires, after practicing for fifteen years. Bored at work and unhappy at home because of a divorce, the father of two small children relaxes at home by playing the sax and comforts himself at work by reassuring his patients he can help them even if he doesn't believe that. When one day Denis finds there's one extra patient in his ward, he's annoyed that this unaccountable patient, Rantes (Hugo Sato), is persistent in his claims to be an alien who has arrived from a faraway planet by spaceship to study human behavior. Rantes claims to be a holographic being from another planet, which transmits to him from the southeast and that he sends back messages about what he has learned about human stupidity. That's why Rantes stands for hours in the asylum courtyard facing southeast during the afternoons. We are led to believe that he's a perfect projection of a human being--a cybernetic Christ, if you can believe. Though the doctor believes Rantes is a delusional paranoid, who defies treatment.

That Rantes sticks to this E.T. story upsets the knowledgeable shrink, who hates to be bull-shitted (showing his ego). But the curious medical doctor humors him and goes along with what he believes is his fantasy since Rantes is harmless, all the patients love him, children are attracted to him, he exhibits a great ability in telekinesis, he's a master organist, he flashes the Pied-Piper quality in an open-air concert during Beethoven’s Ninth symphony to get many in the audience to dance, and he tests out as having the I.Q. of a genius. The doctor will also meet with Rantes' only visitor, the mysterious Beatriz (Ines Vernengo), referred to as the Saint, who thanks him for being a friend and he eventually will make love with her. Only to be disillusioned to learn that she's possibly Rantes' sister and also claims to be an alien agent, who after lovemaking squirts out a blue liquid from her body parts to indicate she betrayed her cause by falling to human temptations.

Rantes is so odd to the authority figures and that he holds such influence over the loonies, that they fear him as a possible threat to their power. So the director of the hospital (David Edery), a take-off on a SA dictator, orders Denis to give Rantes powerful injections of a tranquilizing medication that will make him catatonic. Under this modern primitive treatment to suppress the unruly, Rantes dies and any hope for the doctor to learn how to cure his patients dies with him.

This haunting Argentinean science-fiction film is a reminder of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975) in sympathizing with the patients over the staff, stuck with often administering treatments that are more harmful than beneficial--that are ordered by those who don't care about serving the people's needs.

The skeptical, world-weary, Dr. Denis realizes he's cast as Pontius Pilate in this allegorical tale, as his society leaders feel threatened by the actions of Rantes to unite everyone in love and music. But even though Denis is basically a decent sort, he feels obliged to follow his boss's marching orders to maintain his comfortable lifestyle even if he knows what he's doing is wrong. With that in mind, I can see why this gentle sentimental film, that brings with it a harsh political message about the rule of dictators (Argentina was ruled by dictator Juan Peron and later for seven years, until 1982, by a military junta), has become a cult favorite. It only suffers by being too didactic at times. 

REVIEWED ON 2/20/2011       GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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