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Rick McGrath [Film Festival 09.12.09] Argentina movie review apocalyptic



Year: 2009
Directors: Luis Ortega
Writers: Luis Ortega
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Rick McGrath
Rating: 5 out of 10

The Dirty Saints is a metaphoric story of five survivors of some apocalyptic disaster who fret and fidget over crossing a river to escape their meaningless lives and find some kind of spiritual salvation. Yeah, sounds cool, but unfortunately the plot is so enigmatic, the characters so uninteresting, the quest so uninspiring that at the end of it all you just don’t care who they are or where they’re going.

It all comes together as a sort of Argentine version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, with a number of representative personality types banding together to achieve a goal – to cross a river and start a new beginning. Trouble is, in order to make the journey they must purify themselves by giving up something of the old way they still cherish. Yes, they all manage, but one. It’s either too bad or too ironic that the only character in the movie not to make the trek, the love-starved, brash and sexy Monito, is the only character this reviewer actually cared about. And even she is second fiddle to the actual star of the movie – the post-apocalyptic setting.


What’s going on? It’s hard to tell. Our characters scramble through derelict urban settings or derelict countryside, hiding from soldiers we never see. Our only glimpse of whatever else may be happening are cars that zip along roads at what must be 200 mph, and the distant sounds of jets passing overhead. War? Economic meltdown? Political purge? Doesn’t matter, as there is a way out – you must make a spiritual trip across the Fijman River… a river that does not allow you to cross with any material objects from the apocalyptic side.

Our characters are all representative – a businessman, Rey, who still likes to collect valuables from the rubble and hide his booty in cans. Ceilo, a young man who has an undisclosed relationship with Rey, although it could be homosexual. El Mudo, a simple mute who lives in a destroyed house and plays ditties on a broken piano. Brian, a dwarf child who’s family has been slaughtered in their beds, and Berry, part or full native, who lives in a church’s bell tower, consults astrology charts and intermittently rings the bell. These are our saints. The sinner is Monito, who craves love and whose sexy body has no effect on Rey or Ceilo, although she does seduce Berry, but to no avail, as he ultimately gives up materialism and joins the group across the metaphoric river to a spiritual, if unexplored ending.

The point of the movie is to explore the inner fears and longings of our characters, which in itself is a bit of a joke as Brian is a little kid and El Mudo never speaks. Ceilo is itching to cross the river, but Rey, the materialist, never feels the time is right, and is the last to finally cross. Berry, the disciplined one, decides its time to go after he burns his astrology charts and has sex with Monito, but we’re never made aware of his inner drives. And Monito? She remains a materialist (she likes shoes) and a sexual being, and therefore cannot, or doesn’t want to immerse herself in the cleansing waters of the river to emerge as a new being on the other side. If this is a metaphor for rebirth, what does each give up in order to cast away their old, damaged selves? Again, it appears not much. No one has anything except their inner world view, and their willingness to give up the past is basically represented in the order in which they enter the water, starting with the mute, then Ceilo with Brian on his back, and ending with Berry and then Rey. Hardly heavy.

What is great about Dirty Saints (aside from the close-ups of dirty faces and dirtier fingernails) is the set. Shot in warehouses and abandoned factories, ravaged streets and destroyed homes, the scenes are beautiful in their abject rot and destruction. Cars and junk litter the streets. Everything is deserted, yet household effects are still present, reminding me a bit of the scavenging boy in JG Ballard’s Empire of The Sun. Within the rubble ironies about, such as Monito lying in front of a huge billboard for “Liebig” corned beef. Or Rey and Berry, opposite ends of the social spectrum, both of whom wear incongruous suits throughout the entire ordeal.

The Dirty Saints. It’s a dirty shame this movie isn’t a lot better, given its premise and locale. Ortega simply doesn’t give us enough information about the characters to make us care for them, there’s no real evidence of inner fears, dreams and longings, and the ending looks equally as apocalyptic as the start. If I had the choice, I’d stay with Monito.



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