Man Facing South-East

Lawrence Russell

Man Facing South-East (Hombre Mirando Al Sudeste, 1986) writ. and dir. Eliseo Subiela cine. Ricardo de Angelis star. Lorenzo Quinteros, Hugh Soto, Ines Vernengo

This is a remarkable film, one that takes the popular world-wide delusion that you are an extra-terrestial come to Earth to study mankind, and in a classic surrealist manner explores the theme of what is reality?

The main action takes place in an asylum in Buenos Aires from the point-of-view of a psychiatrist, a lonely divorced man who plays the saxophone in his apartment at night as he meditates on his most peculiar and fascinating patient to date, Rantes. Rantes cannot be traced. His finger-prints aren't on record and no one knows who or what he is. With a disarming assurance he tells the Doctor that Man is "in the prehistory of holographic projection" and that his notions are delusionary... and that's why he, Rantes, has come to an asylum to make contact.

Each evening Rantes stands in a trance in the asylum yard facing south-east, sending and receiving messages from his people. The imagery and the action is, for the most part, naturalistic, with an occasional tilt towards surrealism a la Magritte (the shrouded heads of the man and the woman). Rantes develops a Christ-like persona among the inmates, and the Doctor develops a sympathy beyond the standard professional attitude for this mysterious personality and his serene self-confidence.

The inmates begin to follow him as a saviour. Like a savant, he has a natural musicianship and his own symbolism, a system of hieroglyphics which may or may not be extra-terrestial. He works in the pathology lab, dissecting brains and making notes, never succumbing to the medications of the asylum.

One day an equally mysterious young woman, Beatrice Dick, comes to see him. She tells the Doctor she knew Rantes in a village where he did great work for the Church. The Doctor falls in love with her... and in a great erotic scene they have sex only to have her proclaim that she too is an extra-terrrestial. A blue fluid issues from her mouth. But the Doctor is repulsed by this "pretence" and throws her out of his apartment.

Eventually, due to the enforced injections of depressants, Rantes declines and dies of a heart attack, leaving the Doctor with a baffling unsolved mystery and the yearning that Beatrice, the Saint, will return. In his own humorous self-assessment, he has become "the Pilate of the galaxies".

The somber lighting, the amazing conversations, the depth of characterization and the self-irony make this a very interesting film whose sub-text is like a Catholic reinvention of the universe. At one point the Doctor quotes Bioy Ceasares, the collaborator of Borges, and I wonder how much of this story-line comes from the work of that writer. Certainly the UFO messiah figure is nothing new in the SF genre, but I've never seen such a successful yet serious study of the type. Subiela is an artist to be reckoned with.

This redefining of reality always leads to some troubling propositions about the life we live. In this sense it is art, for the deranged personality is always the focus of our greatest literature.

© LR 8/6/88


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