Los Que Vuelven [The Returned] (2019)

Los Que Vuelven
Director: Laura Casabe
Writer: Laura Casabe, Lisandro Colaberardino, Paulo Soria
Cast: Lali Gonzalez, María Soldi, Alberto Ajaka, Edgardo Castro, Javier Drolas
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 21.9.2020

Content Note: [critical treatment of] racism, colonialism

On a maté plantation in the middle of nowhere at the beginning of the 20th century, Julia (María Soldi) should have a good life as she is married to the plantation owner, Mariano (Alberto Ajaka) and she is raisind a sweet son. But something about the relationship they have with the boy is off. And some of the plantation workers, pretty much slaves, come back down from the mountain in a weird trance and calling for a child. Maybe there is something to the stories about the Guaraní goddess Iguazú who is said to live in the mountains. And it is somehow all connected to Kerana (Lali Gonzalez) who used to work on the plantation.

Los Que Vuelven is an interesting and atmospheric look at colonialism in Argentina, but it might be a little too nice to white women and it did get a little too muddled towards the end. Still, it’s definitely worth watching and discussing.

The film poster showing a woman's profile superimposed over a misty forest.

Casabe’s film is really good at showing the unquestioning callousness and the unfliching “matter-of-course”-ness of the white people’s abuse, disregard and extermination of indigenous life. There are some hard truths here. The most unsettling scene here, precisely because it wasn’t overtly violent, was the moment where Julia’s guests pays her compliments – and it is unclear whether those compliments are about the tea set they are drinking from or about Kerana who is serving the tea. It’s a harrowing moment that absolutely nails the dehumanizing nature of slavery.

But as the film continues, its metaphors become muddled and mixed. That ultimately takes away from the film’s power as you become unsure what exactly it is really trying to say here. I also felt that it was overly kind to Julia, ignoring her complicity as a white woman in the genocide of indigenous people, as women are so often left off the hook, although their part really wasn’t small or negligible at all. (This made me assume that Casabe herself is white, but I don’t know if that is really the case.)

Kerana (Lali Gonzalez) with all-black eyes lit by campfire.

Even though this all leads to an ending that felt slightly lackluster, I found more than enough that kept me engaged until then. The film is atmospheric, the cast is good and the cinematography is really beautiful. And since there definitely aren’t enough films who try to grapple with colonialism at all, I am willing to forgive a whole lot here. The movie is definitely worth a discussion – and you could spend your time worse than watching it.

Julia (María Soldi) sitting at the foot of a waterfall with a bloody night-gown. We see her only from behind, cradling something.

Summarizing: challenging, even if it falls short of its own goals a little.

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