Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Man Facing Southeast directed by Eliseo Subiela

Man Facing Southeast (Hombre Mirando al Sudeste) 
Argentina (Spanish), 1986
105 min, drama, science fiction, suspense
Directed by Eliseo Subiela

An unhappy, disillusioned psychiatrist finds a real challenge when a strange man appears in the mental institution without warning, declaring that he is from another planet and has come here to study humanity. The psychiatrist can find nothing wrong with him, apart from the fact that he says he's an alien. But what if this is actually true? What then?

He decides not to give him any medicines or otherwise give him psychiatric treatment, since this delusion (if it is one) is harmless. When the man's female friend appears, the psychiatrist is confused and wants to get to the bottom of who this apparent alien is. But she says that she doesn't know either. Then, after the psychiatrist falls in love with the woman, she informs him that she is also an alien, but that she has gone astray by focusing too much on the pleasures of the flesh.

This is considered by many to be a classic of South American science fiction. But how does it hold up?

Answer: not very well.

This film demonstrates some of the worst qualities of 1980s movies. The pacing is excruciatingly slow, the voiceovers are unnecessary, the minimal amount of dialogue and long shots of the psychiatrist playing his saxophone (?) do not add anything to the film. Yes, the theory behind this film is interesting - but its execution is not good.

The plot becomes even more confusing when it tries to make a connection between this purported alien and Jesus. So, is he an alien or is he Jesus? Was Jesus an alien? I did not find this question compelling, especially because it was rather clumsily added into the story. It would have been better if the director had stuck to the question of whether he is an alien and what that signifies for the story, rather than bringing in a forced religious angle.

From another angle, the film is an awkward critique of mental health methods in the 1980s. This part makes a bit more sense: since this man isn't hurting anyone, was it really necessary to give him medicines and shock therapy? No! Of course not. But the additional Christ imagery just serves to distract the audience from what could have been an effective critique of mental health care at the time.

All in all, I was disappointed by this classic of Argentinian film. If you want to watch a better movie that raises similar questions, I suggest the classic Man From Earth, in which a college professor may or may not be a caveman who has been alive for thousands of years. And Jesus. And if you want to watch a better Argentinian film, please do watch Nine Queens, a brilliant con film with a crazy twist ending. Just don't waste your time watching this one.

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