Lisandro Alonso

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
6.5 Freedom (2001)
7.0 Los Muertos (2004)
7.1 Fantasma (2006)
7.2 Liverpool (2008)
7.2 Jauja (2014)
7.0 Eureka (2023)

Lisandro Alonso (Argentina, 1975) specialized in minimalist and realist parables in which little is said and done.

La Libertad/ Freedom (2001), shot in 35mm, is almost a documentary about the daily routine of an isolated woodcutter.

A woodchopper walks around his field in a remote countryside. He walks silently, surrounded by the sounds of animals. He defecates. Then he sets out to chop down trees. He tests one tree after the other with the axe. He picks up the chainsaw and begins cutting the branches of a big tree. He packs his tools and moves to another tree. He takes the shovel and moves the earth around its roots. He hits the bottom of the tree with the axe until the tree falls. Then he grabs the chainsaw and cuts it in smaller pieces. He stops for cooking and eating his lunch in a shelter, listening to the music of a radio. He prepares the logs and then sits down, waiting. Eventually a truck drives by. The driver, accompanied by a child and a dog, calles him Misael, and makes room in the back of the trunk. They load the heavy logs. Misael jumps on the truck and the driver drives away. They stop at the man's house. The child gets off. The driver reminds Misael how to drive the truck and where to go. The driver gets off and Misael drives away alone. He reaches a place where he sells the wood, after a quick negotiation. He unloads the wood. He drives away. Stops at a phone booth. Makes a phone call to inquire about his mother and to inform her that he will be back in a month; stops to buy supplies; asks whether there are girls around and is told to come back later; he returns the car; and walks through the fields under a cloudy sky. The fields end and the jungle begins. Then he's back in the open fields where he cuts trees. He makes a fire and cooks his dinner, which involves dismembering an animal, while listening to the radio. After dusk, Misael makes a bigger fire throwing into it all the leftovers from his cutting. He eats his dinner in the dark, bare-chested, while the wind picks up and lightning lights the night. No plate, no fork, just a knife. Nobody around. Then the screen goes black and we hear the sound of the rain.

Told via lengthy shots, Los Muertos (2004) is a simple story that may or may not hide a bigger one. We don't know why the killer killed his brothers, and we don't know what he plans to do to his daughter and her children. We only know that he finds out where she lives and he heads there. There is no effort to penetrate the psychology of this taciturn man, clearly used to survive in the jungle.

The camera walks around the jungle and reveals a number of dead bodies and then a man with a gun. That was a flashback. A middle-aged man is in a prison, intent in his daily routine. He has spent 20 years in prison for those murders. A fellow convict asks him to deliver a letter to his daughter Maria. This is the day that he will be released. A police truck takes him out of the prison and drops him off at the first village. The first thing he does is to buy gifts for his daughter. Next he visits a prostitute to get sex, while her daughters play outside. At the end of the village he picks up the canoe left by his friend's daughter Maria for him. While he chats with an old friend, we learn that he killed his own brothers. The canoe is necessary because Maria lives on an island in the middle of the jungle. Vargas rows the canoe in the mighty river, surrounded only by the sounds of nature. He reaches a hut where he prepares to sleep when the owners arrive: Maria and her siblings. He delivers the letter. The kids tell him that they know where his own daughter Olga is. He asks for directions and then asks to borrow the canoe. Vargas leaves in the morning, nobody around to say goodbye. He rows the canoe down the river until he spots a goat that is quietly munching on the riverbank. He quickly cuts her throat and lets the animal bleed to death. He later stops the boat to butcher the goat (shown in gory details). When he resumes his journey, he is spotted by a scantily dressed teenage boy who is roaming the jungle in search of fruit. It turns out he is Olga's son, i.e. Vargas' grandson. Vargas picks up the goat and follows the kid through the jungle. When they reach the humble cabin, the kid reveals that his mother is gone and he's alone with his little sister. Suddenly Vargas walks inside and for a long minute we only see the curtain of the entrance swinging in the wind. Then the camera bows down towards the ground and focuses on a toy dropped by the girl. We'll never know what happened inside.

Fantasma (2006), filmed in sub-documentarian style, takes its time to reveal its plot. For most of the first half it is just life as ordinary as it gets. Then a plot surfaces and the various characters get connected. Still, it is just a day like any other for them. Accompanying this feeble sign of life is a much more vibrant and dynamic soundtrack, that occasionally reaches the intensity of an industrial symphony. Ironically, the whole ends up evoking Tati's movies, with their chorus of ambient sounds and no protagonist human voice. But the characters chase each other, or chase their own ghost, up and down the corridors and stairwells of the cold, spectral building.

An actor, the protagonist of Alonso's previous film Los Muertos, starts from a room where women's shoes are arranged on shelves and wanders through a building that doesn't seem to contain any life. He reaches what appears to be the lobby, lights a cigarette, checks a few items, while through the glass doors we see the life of the city. He seems puzzled by the elevator. A young man is using the bathrooms. In a red room a spectacled priest-like man taking notes. Then the priest-like figure walks into the same bathroom where the kid was, as if looking for someone. Then he takes the elvator and meets a girl. His name is Carlos (these are the first words uttered in the movie, and not many more will follow). A man starts eating where the girl was waiting for the elevator. The girl walks into her office and turns on the computer. The bathroom kid is staring the traffic from a balcony. The girl walks down the stairs of the building. There is nobody in the empty silent space of the theater. Then Carlos walks by. The actor is in his room. The camera pans and we see another man standing at the threshold. The restroom kid takes the elevator to go down. The alarm of the elevator goes off because the door is not closed properly. The restoorm kid stares at himself in the mirror and at the poster of the pin-up affixed to it. Then he plays with a hydrant hose in the corridor. The alarm noise is still on. At another floor we see just the stairwell but we hear the noise of a computer modem. Carlos is walking up the stairs. He finally finds the actor and tells him that they are ready to show him the movie. He takes the actor to the empty theater and the projecton begins. The girl joins him in the theater. There are only two spectators. The actor watches Alonso's movie in which he was protagonist, while backstage Carlos explores a dark corner and seems puzzled by a pipe. The soundtrack of the film that the actor is watching is simply sounds of tropical birds. Now we understand that the other characters are staff of the theater. When the actor walks out into the red room, the girl briefly introduces herself and congratulates him. The man who was eating sits next to the actor on the couch of the red room, but they don't exchange a single word. The actor gets up and calls the elevator, but the elevator doesn't workm so he has to walk downstairs and close the door properly. Then he takes the elevator. The actor wanders again through the lifeless corridors and opens a door beyond which someone is playing the piano. The restroom kid is walking up the stairs and into an artist's studio. Then he pulls out a bottle and drinks by himself watching television.

Liverpool (2008), shot in two weeks without professional actors, tells of a pilgrimage of sorts, a return to the scene of the "crime" that haunts a lonely man with no family and no friends, who spends his time controlling machines and traveling the world without living anywhere in particular. The ending is as plain as a webcam left running in an isolated farm, but suddenly it strikes as hard as Orson Welles' "Rosebud" in Citizen Kane when his mentally retarded daughter stares at the word "Liverpool". We will never know whether she understands what it means, whether she misses her father, whether she realizes that Liverpool is a distant city in a world she'll never see. The mystery is buried forever in a mind that has long been dead, and that the protagonist cannot penetrate anymore. The protagonist leaves behind a father who doesn't welcome him, a mother who doesn't remember him and a daughter who cannot comprehend who he is.

A middle-aged sailor, Farrel, on a high-tech ship, where a sailor's job is just to control machines asks for two days to go and visit his mom, whom he hasn't seen in a long time. They are approaching the village at the (southern) end of the continent where he was born and raised. A lengthy scene shows him dressing in ordinary clothes and packing his bag. After a dinner in a restaurant and a visit to a strip joint, Farrel takes a ferry and falls a sleep. When he wakes up, he is in Tierra del Fuego, a cold and barren place. He hitchhikes a ride on a logger's truck He reaches a village and walks into a restaurant where he is the only customer. Other people come and eventually a mentally retarded girl, Analia, walks in. The owner of the restaurant gives her food and takes her home. Farrell, who is now drunk, follows them and watches from the window as the girl goes to bed. Farrell spends the night in an outhouse in the middle of a snow field. Two men find him almost frozen to death and carry him to a humble adobe, owned by one of the two, the old Trujillo. Farrell is still incapable of talking, but Trujillo starts talking to him: they are old acquaintances, and Trujillo has been taking care of Farrell's daughter, Analia, who was born shortly after Farrell left and later became an orphan when her mother died. Farrell visits the house where the girl lives. Analia is indifferent to the stranger and merely asks for money. In the next room is an old woman, Farrell's mother. She is sick and doesn't recognizes him nor does she remember having a son. Farrell spends only a few minutes in the house. He walks away in the snow leaving Analia a keychain and some money. Trujillo is also taking care of the sick mother, so he must be Farrell's father, although he didn't show much emotion in seeing his son. Analia joins hem as the old man is feeding the old woman in bed. A simple, tender domestic scene: the old man has to take care of a mentally retarded girl and a sick old woman, but he does so with love. He mumbles that he is happy that Farrell left again. Then Analia walks to the restaurant to get food again. In the morning the old man is shoveling snow. The sawmill worker seems to like Analia but she is reluctant to get close to him (maybe he has tried before?) The old man takes Analia with him to go check his animal traps in the woods. Her mind is elsewhere, she hugs a tree. Back at home he tells her to feed the sheep. All of this is shown in a semi-documentarian style. She pulls out the keychain that says "Liverpool" and stares at it.

Jauja (2014), scripted with Argentinian novelist Fabian Casas and shot by longtime Aki Kaurismaki cameraman Timo Salminen, is a cryptic parable about the horrific dream of a young girl.

A father and daughter from Denmark are in 19th-century Argentina. Speaking in Danish, Inge asks for a dog and father tells her she can have one when they return home. An old man masturbates in a pond of the swamp. Nearby, Inge's father stares at the sea with a monoscope. The old man approaches Inge's father, who speaks Spanish with an accent. They discuss the expedition that they are preparing. The old man, Pittaluga, recommends a soldier who has the reputation of being crazy but is loyal and efficient. Then he asks permission to take Inge to a dance, and even offers an horse as a gift. The father finds an excuse and declines. He then walks to Inge and warns her against the old man. When he walks away, she is approached by the soldier, Corto, and she hugs him tenderly. Pittaluga sees them and arrests Corto. Inge's father, Pittaluga and Corto are joined by a fourth man, a gentleman nicely dressed. Corto tells them the rumors he heard about the officer Zuluaga: he disappeared in the desert and now he leads a gang of bandits and dresses like a woman. The fourth man, Milkibar, laughs at this news, incredulous. Pittaluga orders Corto to search for Zuluaga in the desert and find out if these stories are real. There are no towns and no buildings: they are camping outdoors, between the beach and the desert. In the middle of the night Inge and Corto flee the camp. Her father wakes up and, not finding her anywhere, arms himself and sets out to look for them. He refuses Pittaluga's offer to help him. He rides to the place where workers are digging a trench, but they have not seen Inge. Riding into the desert, he finds an agonizing wounded man who whispers "Zuluaga" before dying. A rider on a white horse is following him. Then he finds Corto, also dying, also whispering "Zuluaga". Furious, the Dane beheads Corto. Just then someone steals his horse and his gun. He is now walking, far away from civilization, alone and unarmed. He stumbles onto a dog who is lying in a pond and follows it. Then he finds a little toy that Inge had. He climbs a rocky hill and sleeps at the top. The following morning he keeps following the dog. The dog takes him to a Danish woman who seems to live in a cave. She tells him that her husband was killed by a snake bite. He then ventures into the dark cave. She is an old woman with gray hair. She shows him the compass that her daughter had and she asks him questions as if she were Inge, and he answers as if answering Inge. Before departing, he shows her the toy. She cries and hugs him. And utters a sentence identical to a sentence that Inge had uttered to him. Then he leaves and keeps walking alone in the desert. He still hears her voice as he ventures into a rocky section. Suddenly the scene changes and we're in modern Denmark. Inge is now a modern teenager. She wakes up, apparently alone in a huge mansion. Therefore the whole story in 19th Argentina was her dream. She walks out into the vast lawn and meets the man who takes care of her dogs. He tells her that one of the dogs is sad because she leaves so often. She takes the dog for a walk. She finds the toy and picks it up. The dog drowns in a pond and she throws the toy into the pond.

Eureka (2023)

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )