IFFR 2011: ALL YOUR DEAD ONES review
It hardly seems like a premise that can be mined for entertainment: a Colombian farmer discovers a huge pile of corpses in his field and tries to warn the police. Yet that is exactly what director Carlos Moreno does in his film "Todos Tus Muertes" ("All Your Dead Ones"), a very black comedy thriller which is almost painfully satirical yet remains eerily plausible.
This year the International Film Festival Rotterdam included "Todos Tus Muertes" as a Tiger Award Nominee in its program, and although it didn't win (the Tiger Jury and I hardly ever seem to agree the last few years...) it was in my opinion the best contender I saw.
On election day in Colombia, farmer Salvador discovers a big pile of corpses hidden on one of his fields. The local government is abhorred and denies the existence of the massacre, afraid that this will disrupt the elections, give the province a bad reputation and nobody is keen on a large-scale investigation in the region anyway. But when Salvador starts talking to the local press the police is quickly forced into damage-control-mode.
Initial attemps to hush the story and make the bodies disappear fail though, as the pile is just far too big to get easily rid off. Complications amass and nerves are frayed when more and more people get involved...
Satire can be difficult to pull off when the target seems too easy to miss, as pointing out the obvious hardly carries a bite. Colombia has been caught for decades in a terrible civil war, and both sides are devastated by corruption and violence. But most people only try to make ends meet and live as normal as possible given the circumstances, and with its vast jungles and mountain ranges whole regions of Colombia proudly claim not to be involved with the frontline at all. Evidence to the contrary is not welcomed of course.
Through a friend, director Carlos Moreno and producer Diego Ramirez heard about an incident where a pile of bodies was found on the border of two different regions. To everyone's shock the two local mayors started to have a very vocal fight on the spot over who ought to have these casualties on their statistics, each afraid his city would be proclaimed a "problem region". That is where the idea for "Todos Tus Muertes" came from, and that is also where a valid target for satire comes in.
Seeing the aftermath of an atrocity treated as a mere logistics problem is shockingly rude, and presented as Moreno does here it is scathing but very entertaining at the same time. At the heart of the matter are the farmer Salvador and his family, who are from the start treated as a problem rather than as witnesses. They are of course one of the obstacles for a quick cover-up so the film gets a lot of tension from the audience wondering about their eventual fate. As more and more people get involved you start to breathe a bit easier, knowing that killing Salvador becomes less of a viable solution. You can never be entirely sure though, as the rug gets pulled from under everyone's feet several times.
The satirical entertainment comes mostly from watching the pedantic government officials trying to act like they have the situation under control but getting increasingly desperate as time passes, squirming in the heat and the scrutiny of their unseen criminal superiors. Thankfully, Moreno never even once makes light of the killings themselves or revert to slapstick gags featuring the casualties.
What he does do with the dead bodies is pretty clever: he uses them to mirror the feelings of the people watching them. Sometimes the corpses look back or move a bit, showing their dissatisfaction with the proceedings. In one brilliant moment they can even be seen standing up in the background, a passively angry mob. This never happens as "reality" in the story, nor are they used as scare effects, but it speaks volumes about the mood of the person watching the bodies, be it guilt, fear or horror.
Direction, acting and camerawork are all perfectly fine and never distract you from being engrossed in the story. And the film is topped off with a stellar ending which elevates everything which came before, a joke which keeps becoming blacker the longer you think about it. Moreno has made a film which is both poignant and funny, an ode to the people of Colombia and a big raised middle finger to the situation they seem to be stuck in. And as a satire of failing government it is pretty awesome.
One of the strongest films at this year's festival, "Todos Tus Muertes" aka. "All Your Dead Ones" is a scathing look at how a local government is rendered completely immobile by corruption and vanity. Despite the dour subject, the fresh approach by writer/director Carlos Moreno makes this a very entertaining movie indeed, and pleasantly surprises all the way till the end.
Very highly recommended!
The audience at the International Film Festival Rotterdam gave it a respectable score of 3.8 out of 5 (which in my opinion is still easily half a point too low).
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