Don't get buried
Dealing with the dead: Latin Wave film festival digs black humor out of themacabre
If you’re looking for themes that movies from this year’s Latin Wave film festival (which runs through Sunday at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) have in common, consider this one: Whether your country has recently been the victim of a bloody military coup, or is the ongoing victim of a 70-year-long (plus or minus) civil war, it will still have the problem of what to do with the all the corpses.
The Chilean film Post Mortem (in which one of the corpses belongs to Salvador Allende) takes the dilemma quite seriously, making the question of how to deal with the bodies into a gripping tragedy. But the Colombian Todos Tus Muertos (All Your Dead Ones) takes the opposite approach. Coming from Colombia, a country that is to some extent inured to violence, director Carlos Moreno finds black comedy in the pile of bodies that Salvador — a befuddled, cross-eyed campesino — finds in his corn field.
Looking to do his duty, Salvador (Alvaro Rodriguez) rides his bike into town to report the massacre. But instead of being determined to get to the bottom of the horrendous crime, the mayor and the comandante of the local police station are mostly concerned with how to get rid of the bodies with the least effort and personal risk to themselves.
They both assume that the bodies come from elsewhere, and that some other official has simply dumped his problem onto them. The phone calls that the mayor makes to his fellow politicians, thanking them obscurely for the “gift” they’ve given him, hoping to draw them out into a confession, are priceless comic bits.
But the actor who carries the film, and who makes sure that it goes beyond black humor and into actual suffering, is Alvaro Rodriguez. His Salvador is such a rustic everyman that I was surprised to learn during an interview with director Moreno that Rodriquez is one of the leading lights of Colombian theater, and that he helped write the character.
Moreno explains that his film is a study in the consequences of deep social division between the rich few and the poor many, and of the culture of impunity that this division creates. There is never any suggestion that those who actually killed these 50 civilians will suffer any consequences for their murders. But if a middle-manager like the mayor can’t figure out a way to get rid of the bodies, there will be hell to pay.
It’s a great comic premise that Moreno fully exploits.
The film is also visually beautiful, and deserves its prize for Best Cinematography from the most recent Sundance Film Festival. This beauty, along with Moreno’s careful pacing, creates a kind of Brechtian (Moreno suggested Buñuelian) distance which allows the audience to soberly consider the story that he’s telling, and not simply shudder over it.
Todos Tus Muertos is one of Latin Wave’s highlights, as is Post Mortem, for that matter. They make for a powerful and provocative double feature.
Post Mortem shows at 5 p.m. Friday and 9 p.m. Sunday and Todos tus muertos screens at 9 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday at MFAH's Audrey Jones Beck Building.