Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lisandro Alonso

Some quick notes on all four of Lisandro Alonso’s features.

La Libertad (2001)
Los Muertos (2004)
Fantasma (2006)
Liverpool (2008)

All four films focus on a lonely male as he navigates his way through an environment. With the exception of Fantasma, the environment in the three other films is nature, free from the reach of any city, ranging from farmland, forests and mountains.

For a brief moment at the start of Liverpool, the camera is in a confined space but once Farrel leaves the ship, the camera soaks in the open spaced surroundings like it does in La Liberdad and Los Muertos.

Fantasma is the only film where a character, Argentino Vargas, the actor from Los Muertos, wanders within a confined space.

Argentino walks in a cinema hall before settling to watch a special screening of Los Muertos. The cinema hall setting is also the only city location depicted in any of Alonso’s films. However, the city is only viewed in tiny glances through the glass panels in the cinema’s lobby. Even this tiny glimpse of city life is a shocking aspect to find in an Alonso film. Lisandro’s other three features are devoid of people rushing from one place to another so it feels unnatural to see people walking at a brisk pace through the glass panels in Fantasma.

Even though Fantasma stands apart from the other three journey features, it forms a closed loop with Alonso’s first 2 features. Both the actors of La Libertad (Misael Saavedra) and Los Muertos (Argentino Vargas) are present in Fantasma while the cinema hall is playing Los Muertos. If Liverpool had not taken place in an open space, then Fantasma would have formed a natural trilogy with La Libertad and Los Muertos. However, in terms of location and style, La Libertad, Los Muertos and Liverpool form a natural trilogy. La Liberdad, Los Muertos and Liverpool evoke Bresson by depicting emotionless characters and stripping out any irrelevant details from the frame. The following quote from Robert Bresson applies to these three features:

One does not create by adding but by taking away.

Alonso’s films have removed any distractions from the frame thereby allowing an intense focus on a singular character.

Fantasma also deviates from the style of the other three features. The cinema hall in Fantasma evokes Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn and the large glass panels in the lobby and stairs remind of Tati.
Tati in Playtime
James Quandt’s excellent essay outlines this Tati connection in splendid detail:

But, oddly, it is Tati who most comes to mind in surveying the San Martín’s modernist horror of malfunctioning elevators, confounding staircases, and harshly lit hallways, rooms too ample or cramped, humanity subjugated to decor, architecture, mazes, and machinery. Like Tati, Alonso sees in this surrounding a kind of elegant inutility, a vast contraption in which people stumble, turn back, retrace their steps, push buttons that don’t work, tentatively position themselves in spaces not designed for their being, much less comfort. And, again like Tati, he embeds this vision of errant modernity in a musique concrète of mechanical sound: outside traffic; the whoosh, buzz, and hum of elevators; a computer whirring to life; an incessant, unanswered telephone; the squeal of an unoiled door; the roar of the projector showing Vargas the rural world of Los Muertos, with its contrasting quiet and cacophony of birds.

Alonso's new film (2014)

At first, the casting of Viggo Mortensen in Alonso's new film seemed to indicate a continuation of the lonely men journey structure but the following synopsis on imdb indicates otherwise:

A father and daughter journey from Denmark to an unknown desert that exists in a realm beyond the confines of civilization.

Related Reading

James Quandt’s article.

Michael Guillen’s interview.

Srikanth (JAFB) on the films of Alonso.

Cinema Scope’s interview.

Gabe Klinger’s 2005 article anticipated the rise of Alonso.


Sam Juliano said...

Terrific visual analysis (and presentation of some real eye candy) of the director's formidable canon, Sachin. Fascinating. Sad to see I have only seen LIVERPOOL of these, but hope to play catch-up at some point, and certainly to see the upcoming release. Nice tie-in with Tati as well.

Sachin said...

Thanks a lot Sam. I do hope you get to see his other films soon.