The Films That Got Away 

Wednesday, Jun 21 2006

This ongoing series of acclaimed recent films that have yet to screen locally, curated by members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, returns as part of this year’s LAFF, complete with a panel discussion in which critics (including this one), distributors and exhibitors will discuss the market forces affecting the distribution of foreign and independent films. Among the films screening, the revelation is Los Muertos (2004), the extraordinary second feature by Argentine director Lisandro Alonso, about a recently paroled felon (nonprofessional actor Argentino Vargas) making the long and arduous river journey back to his adult daughter. The movie begins with a dreamlike opening shot of sunlight flickering through dense jungle brush, until the dream turns into a nightmare when Alonso’s camera comes to rest on the bodies of two dead children. As the film progresses, we gather fragments of the story — enough to know that the man returning home now was the killer of his two younger brothers back then. Little beyond that is certain, for as in Alonso’s striking 2001 debut film, La Libertad, the strength of Los Muertos lies in its lyrical silences and in the strange and terrible beauty Alonso evokes from his synthesis of man, labor and nature. More often than not, what we see on the screen is simple human behavior, unobtrusively observed, as Vargas carefully removes honeycomb from a beehive or, in the film’s most striking set piece, kills and guts a goat that he will bring to his daughter as a gift. Los Muertos is no mere ethnographic record, however, but something darker and more unsettling: a passage into the haunted recesses of a human soul. No title in this year’s “Films that Got Away” program — from the dystopian, neofuturistic Chinese fable All Tomorrow’s Parties (2003) to Abderrahmane Sissako’s Waiting for Happiness (2002), about the collision of tradition and modernism in a seaside Mauritanian village — is without merit. But Los Muertos qualifies as a major event, not just on its own terms, but for offering local audiences a window into the exciting new wave of films and filmmakers that has emerged from Argentina in recent years.

All films in the “Films that Got Away” series screen at the UCLA James Bridges Theater: Waiting for Happiness on Thurs., June 29, 7 p.m.; Los Muertos on Fri., June 30, 9:30 p.m.; and All Tomorrow’s Parties on Sat., July 1, 7 p.m. In addition, the panel discussion “Unshown Cinema: Inside the World of ‘The Films that Got Away’?” will take place on Sun., June 25, 5 p.m., at the Hammer Museum.

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Reach the writer at sfoundas@villagevoice.com

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