Guest review by Amy Vaughn
Hombre mirando al sudeste
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DIRECTED BY: Eliseo Subiela
FEATURING: Lorenzo Quinteros, Hugo Soto, Inés Vernengo
PLOT: A man appears in a mental hospital claiming to be an alien.
COMMENTS: Man Facing Southeast is a meditation on the human condition. Like Mindwalk or Waking Life, it’s best to know what you’re getting into, and that there will be monologuing and pithy one-liners like, “I am your hallucination.”
It is plenty deep, and it was appreciated when it came out in 1986, garnering much praise and many awards in its home country of Argentina. For good reason: it’s well made on a slim budget ($600,000 USD), the acting is tight, the script leaves you with take-home ideas, and at the time the story hadn’t been done to death.
But now, everything seems predictable, from the worn facades of the sanitarium, to the jaded psychiatrist, to the mysterious (possibly alien) patient who may or may not save the doctor from himself. Even the patient/alien becoming ever more Christlike, gaining an entourage of sedated mental patients, and using psychokinesis to help a hungry mother feed her children—it’s all kind of ho-hum.
Rantés, the mental patient/alien played expertly by Hugo Soto, tells the psychiatrist that, because he is an alien hologram, he is unable to feel human emotions. He says he was sent/projected to Earth to determine what is wrong with humans, why we are so awful to one another.
Throughout the film, the psychiatrist vacillates about believing Rantés. He labels him delusional but does not put him on anti-psychotics. He broods about him and goes home to play the saxophone. A lot. There is a lot of saxophone in this movie.
An hour in, another possible alien enters the story. Her name is Beatriz Dick (apparently named in honor to Philip K.). She is meekly mannered and conservatively dressed. Rantés tells the psychiatrist she is a rogue alien, seduced by “sunsets and certain odors” to want to stay on Earth. The psychiatrist, predictably, falls in love with her. There are two odd things about Beatriz: she often exchanges her shoes for shoes that are exactly the same, which she carries with her in a shopping bag; and her saliva is blue, which we see once.
That’s it. That’s all the movie gives us to determine whether or not they are aliens: Rantés has psychokinetic powers and Beatriz has blue saliva.
The weirdest thing about this movie is that Rantés cannot feel, yet helps people anyway. As things progress—mostly as he is exposed to music—Rantés begins to smile and dance and experience joy, which becomes his undoing.
As much as Man Facing Southeast downplays its science fiction aspects, it spoon-feeds us its philosophy. But that’s what these movies do. Meant to be a timeless study of humankind’s inhumanity to itself and what it means to be human, decades of intervening movies on similar themes (both sci-fi and phi) have overshadowed it.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…it shows huge promise — its mystery, its patient pace and its eerie resonance sometimes transcend its didactics.”–Rita Kempley, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by “F.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)