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‘Man Facing Southeast’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 01, 1987

There's a pleasing mood to "Man Facing Southeast" that makes you want to like it. But the story is so sluggish and takes such illogical twists that you give up.

Argentine director Eliseo Subiela's film (a Filmfest DC entry last week) tells the story of the gaunt, mysterious Rantes, who takes shelter at a neuropsychiatric hospital, claiming to be an alien. (Well, he does look a little like Ivan Lendl.) Dr. Denis, assigned as Rantes' psychiatrist, becomes fascinated with this man who spends his afternoons in the courtyard facing southeast -- the better to receive alien transmissions.

We get to know and like Dr. Denis (played with empathy and eloquence by Lorenzo Quinteros). He lives alone. His children have been lost to a divorce and he spends time practicing on his sax. And we are initially intrigued by his quest to find out more about Rantes.

Convinced at first the patient is a fake, Denis discovers more evidence that Rantes may be telling the truth (he has extraordinary cognitive powers and he can move stationary objects better than Uri Geller). It turns out Rantes is here to find out why humans do such inhuman things as start wars, let people starve and pay attention to game shows.

But the interaction between the two men is deadly dull. Both spend much movie time not doing much -- Denis mulls, Rantes gawks. Everything takes so long. And the alien's character, drawn with a heavy hand from New Testament parables, is simply not original, interesting or dangerous enough to merit the attention.

Eventually, Denis takes Rantes out to a concert, and the patient takes the baton from the conductor to lead a surprised orchestra in Beethoven's Ninth. Suddenly, what had been a serious tone gives way to clumsy "King of Hearts" burlesque. The audience on screen starts dancing as if it's at a Julio Iglesias concert. And meanwhile, back at the asylum, inmates who have been drawn to the alien's magnetism begin to riot and assault the gates like zombie disciples.

After the melee, despite Denis's protestations, the hospital director orders massive doses of tranquilizing drugs for Rantes. The alien deteriorates predictably and rapidly. The movie already has.

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