Tag Archives: Argentinian

GUEST REVIEW: MAN FACING SOUTHEAST (1986)

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.

Still from Man Facing Southeast (1986)

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.)

CAPSULE: MOEBIUS (1996)

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DIRECTED BY: Gustavo Mosquera

FEATURING: Guillermo Angelelli, Roberto Carnaghi, Anabella Levy, Jorge Petraglia

PLOT: A train vanishes within a vast subway system, and a topologist who happens to be a former student of the man who designed the transit line is tasked with tracking down the missing transport.

Still from Moebius (1996)

COMMENTS: For roughly a decade following a coup in 1976, the military junta that led Argentina waged a so-called “Dirty War” against suspected dissidents and opponents. The campaign amounted to state-sponsored terrorism, typified by widespread arrests without charge or trial, death camps, and even the taking of newborn infants to be raised by the families of favored families. (For what it’s worth, the Argentinian dictators had help.) The campaign of kidnapping, torture, and murder was widespread, and the suspected number of 30,000 people disappeared without a trace during the junta’s reign may be low.

So perhaps you can understand why a short science fiction story about a subway train that mysteriously goes missing might have some resonance to Argentine audiences. The hidden parts of history are an ever-present threat to those in power, so the questions the characters in Moebius confront go far beyond what happened to the train, and reach into the puzzles of why can’t we find out and who doesn’t want us to know.

That’s why the way the mystery within Moebius unfolds is surprisingly satisfying: via the turning of the wheels of bureaucracy. As the alarm of a missing train works its way up the chain, we see ever-higher levels of managers and functionaries confronted with the baffling report, with no dialogue necessary to convey their confusion. Ultimately, these same bureaucrats will be looking for a way to make the whole thing go away, because the only thing more dangerous to the powerful than an unknown is a bad known.

As the equivalent of a locked-door mystery, Moebius relies heavily on mood to do the bulk of the work. After all, our hero is a topologist, a mathematician who studies the malleability of surfaces. This turns out to be a canny choice for an investigator, given the metaphysical nature of the train’s disappearance, but it also means we shouldn’t expect a lot of riveting action.

At least as interesting as Moebius’ plot is its production: director Mosquera enlisted a crew of 45 students from the newly established Universidad del Cine in Buenos Aires. Despite their nascent skills, the film is a very polished product. In particular, antique cameras and analog editing bring an unusual sheen to the various clips of trains in motion, giving the Underground the feel of the underworld.

Ultimately, what makes Moebius strange is its reliance upon metaphor. It’s no coincidence that the final sequence begins in a subway station named for Argentina’s premier magical realist, Jorge Luis Borges. For as much as it may seem to be about a man looking for a train, Moebius never ceases to be about a nation confronting hidden truths that stubbornly resist the sunlight. The movie is effective as a tight little science-fiction tale, but the ghosts of the desaparecidos have another story they insist upon telling.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Pop culture’s given us glory trains, cocaine trains, trains to nowhere, and hellbound trains, but Argentinian director Gustavo Mosquera manages to wrap them all into one in this masterful mind-fuck.”– Gary Morris, Bright Lights Film Journal

(This movie was nominated for review by “Wormhead.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: LA PIETÀ (2022)

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La pieda

DIRECTED BY: Eduardo Casanova

FEATURING: , Manel Llunell

PLOT: Young Mateo is diagnosed with cancer, much to the maternal delight of his uncommonly protective mother, Libertad.

COMMENTS: Nestled between the Venn diagram data sets for “Sledgehammer” and “Soft” lies La Pietà, Eduardo Casanova’s sophomore feature. If you’ll permit the flowery language, as the film’s leads would, there is, verily, a great deal of “nestling” here in general. The title card’s image, the climax’s mise en scene—and regularly throughout, one character is seen in the arms of another, especially young Mateo embraced by his suffocatingly loving mother. Libertad, for ’tis her name, loves her son to a degree so monumental it risks crushing him under the weight.

Within the confines of a sepulchral home wrought of soft-black marble and pink curtains, Mateo lives under the protective wing of the omnipresent Libertad. They dine together, watch television together, and occasionally sleep together. On the occasions they leave the home they (both) attend rehearsals for Libertad’s dance ensemble; later, when it is revealed one or both of them suffers a malady, they (both) spend time at hospital. Libertad is forever fretful her dear boy may wander off if he is not at her heels. Meanwhile, dear boy does often hear the siren’s call Outside That Door; a foray there triggers his downfall into complete dependency.

A parallel story concerns the family of a military official attempting to flee North Korea (the film is set just prior to the passing of Kim Jong-il), adding further to this obvious treatise on dictatorial behavior and the reliance cultivated in the subjected. Mother grills Mateo about the quality of his bowel movement over dinner; she offers to help him bathe, and insists on trimming his toenails (which becomes an unlikely plot point); and, when the lad is weakened by chemotherapy, Libertad finds his helplessness far too alluring. Mateo is vaguely aware of how this behavior is damaging him. As he navigates his world of soft-black stone and pink fabric, he has augurs and guides: his estranged father (who has mommy issues of his own), his therapist (trying to pry apart the symbiotic pair), and Consuelo, a mysterious hospital patient who desires her own freedom.

Nestled in the heavy-handedness (of both the mother and the director) are those subtleties I mentioned. Beneath the situational cringe humor lies a subtler vein of comedy. Libertad’s conversation with a hospital receptionist about pink ribbons for breast cancer is an honest-to-goodness chuckler (“There’s no color for brain cancer?”) Casanova references his debut, Skins, with a brief shot of “Poopie Loops”, whose box features the ass-faced woman. Mateo’s pregnant step mother’s insistence (yes, there is a lot of maternity going on) that she is not smoking when she demonstrably is makes for a bleakly amusing counterpoint to Libertad’s obsessive need for control.

Her control, in turn, reflects the director’s control of his sets, costumes, scenes, and choreography. La Pietà kicks off with a baroque dance number, which ticks along perfectly right until the singer collapses in a fit of helpless tears. But even in his overblown metaphors, Eduardo Casanova softens the edges with chiffony, pastel-pink.

Read our interview with Eduardo Casanova.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A Freudian field day, the campy-dark humor blends softly into surreal depictions of simulated birth, shared baths, full frontal bits on display and savage scenes of Mateo’s declining will to reject his mother’s authority.”–Holly Jones, Variety (festival screening)

CAPSULE: LAVA (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Ayar Blasco

FEATURING: Voices of Sofía Gala Castiglione; (English dub)

PLOT: The world is invaded by mysterious beings whose arsenal includes broadcast hypnotism and giant cats; a tattoo artist and her friends try to survive.

Still from Lava (2019)

COMMENTS: There’s a threat to mankind, and it goes well beyond the mysterious bus-sized cats, the paralysis-inducing video broadcasts, and the ever-increasing horde of giant Wicked Witches patrolling the streets. Yessir, the real threat is the rise of the “Lachrymal Culture”.

For a movie as silly as Lava, the nigh-archaic term “lachrymose” crops up a lot. However, it’s what Débora and her friends must fight against. We are told that the tattoo artists are the chosen ones, and they will be saved; we are told that “fanzines” are the only way to combat the menace; we are told that the cats can be thwarted with a K4 automatic rifle—or, as with regularly-sized cats, spritzed water will do. We are told a lot of things as this gang of Argentine misfits wanders around. Further topics of discussion include: mythology (particularly Norse), fluid identity, and layered conspiracies.

With something this breezy and laid-back (and adequately amusing), it’s tough to be too critical. It’s also tough to find much to write about when the “Plot” description above hits just about all the major points. Between that and the screen-capture provided, you’ll probably know if Lava is right for you. The movie’s barely over an hour long, and it feels like a web-toon series pasted together (the animation style strongly suggests it, with cuts to black every five-to-eight minutes reinforcing the sentiment). I haven’t watched it in the original (Argentine) Spanish, but the dub worked well enough—perhaps even adding some amusing incongruency, what with Garofalo and others performing in their American tones while referring to Spanish-language signs and newspapers.

On a personal note, as an advocate of interpersonal communication in person, I approved of Lava‘s general “anti-smartphone” attitude. And, naturally, the giant cats were darn cute.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this isn’t for everybody. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s for a narrow range of film buffs who grew up in the 90s, have a certain simpatico for sci-fi and fantasy, don’t mind a little romance, and prefer their movies to be as completely whacko as they possibly can be – the less mainstream, the better… don’t say I didn’t warn you about the weird part.”–Carlos de Villalvilla, Cinema 365 (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE CURIOUS DR. HUMPP (1969)

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DIRECTED BY: Emilio Vieyra

FEATURING: Ricardo Bauleo, Aldo Barbero, Gloria Prat, Susana Beltrán

PLOT: A mad scientist uses his monster army to drug and kidnap horny hippies, whom he arouses so he can drain a fluid from them.

Still from The Curious Dr. Humpp (1969)

COMMENTS: At bottom, The Curious Dr. Humpp is a formulaic 1950s-style mad scientist flick enlivened by a couple of bizarre touches. Most obviously, there is a lot of simulated sex. The threadbare plot involves Humpp sending his masked “monsters” to kidnap libidinous youngsters and feed them aphrodisiacs so that he can extract a mystery substance from them when they are sexually aroused, which he uses in the typical mad scientist quest for immortality, or something. This scenario leads to perverse permutations of the typically shoddy mad scientist dialogue (“I must position this positive electrode against the nerves of the libido. If this experiment succeeds, I’ll not only be able to restrain lust, but also turn humans into veritable screwing machines!”) These elements mix together to create a movie that you might call “curious.”

The original Argentinian cut of the film (La venganza del sexo) ran only about 70 minutes, so the American producers added an additional 15 minutes of softcore writhing (along with the extra “p” in Dr. Humpp’s name) before releasing this monstrosity to grindhouses. Some of the transitions between new and old footage are abrupt, with the soundtrack not following the visuals. Scenes of a perpetually masturbating blonde, for example, are clearly spliced in with re-used reaction shots of Dr. Humpp and his buxom nurse assistant to create new scenes. The new prisoners’ cells in Humpp’s manor look exactly the same as the rooms from which they were initially abducted.

Despite its South American origins, the enterprise has an early Eurosleaze vibe. The cinematography is far superior to the script; the camerawork is crisp, utilizing interesting angles. One sex scene, for example, is shot with a bubbling beaker in the foreground tastefully blocking colliding genitals from view. The discordant sci-fi soundtrack, with its theremins, jazzy vibraphone interludes, and the sounds of bubbling laboratory liquids used as a percussive element, is also above the otherwise low baseline the film sets. And there are a few minor bits of weird genius, like the monster serenade pictured above, and the under-explained talking brain in the jar (which may have inspired the similar character in Blood Diner).

I’m pretty sure that, if I’d first seen this in my twenties, I would have thought it one of the strangest curiosities in existence; so, if you’re a dedicated fan (or Humpper, as dedicated fans of this movie have never been called), I can understand. But I’ve been spoiled by decades of watching movies, and at this point Humpp no longer appears so singular. But the movie does lie squarely within the weird zone, and, if you have a high tolerance for long stretches of simulated black-and-white humpping, it’s unique enough to recommend to the curious.

2021’s Something Weird/AGFA Blu-ray reissue includes the original La venganza del sexo cut for the first time (you can even watch it with subtitles!) There’s also a commentary track from genre maven , trailers, and the campy sleaze short “Tomb It May Concern” (Something Weird’s Humpp DVD featured three bonus shorts—“Rasputin and the Princess,” “The Girl and the Skeleton,” and “My Teenage Fallout Queen”—so this is actually a rare Blu-ray downgrade).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Chock full of bumping and grinding in both lesbian and straight sex varieties, The Curious Dr. Humpp might not make a whole lot of sense but it doesn’t matter, it’s seriously weird enough to work.”–Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop! (Blu-ray)