Man Facing Southeast
|Man Facing Southeast|
|Directed by||Eliseo Subiela|
|Produced by||Luján Pflaum
Hugo E. Lauría
|Screenplay by||Eliseo Subiela|
|Music by||Pedro Aznar
|Cinematography||Ricardo de Angelis|
|Editing by||Luis César d'Angiolillo|
|Distributed by||FilmDallas Pictures (United States)
|Running time||105 minutes|
Man Facing Southeast is a Spanish-language motion picture originally released in Argentina in 1986 as Hombre mirando al sudeste.
The staff and patients go about their daily business at Buenos Aires' José Borda Psychiatric Hospital on a summer day in 1985. A staff psychiatrist, Dr. Julio Denis (Lorenzo Quinteros) is surprised to hear that his ward for non-violent delusional cases has one patient too many.
Dr. Denis finds the new patient in the chapel playing the organ like a virtuoso. Summoning him (Hugo Soto) to his office, the man's speech is measured and articulate as he explains his presence there as a result of an image being projected from light years away. He introduces himself as "Rantés" (an exotic sounding name in Argentina). Dr. Denis is convinced that Rantés is a fugitive hoping to hide from the law in the hospital. He lets the patient stay however, after seeing how his caring touch helps the other patients. The doctor is amused by his extraterrestrial claims and he suspects the man is a genius using his talents as a charade.
Julio Denis is a highly professional, lonely man, whose recent divorce left him jaded towards life and work. Since his wife remarried, he settles for weekly outings with his two children and grainy home movies of happier times, which he views every night. Rantés, noticing the wounded Dr. Denis, is as interested in his troubles as the doctor is in Rantés, "the first patient in a long time" that has interested him at all. Believing his claim to be a "projected hologram" an allusion to Adolfo Bioy Casares' novel, Morel's Invention, Dr. Denis concludes that this impressive genius is very well-read. The doctor soon uses his prerogatives to include Rantés in several outings, including a visit to a touring Moscow State Circus performance.
Rantés is no ordinary man, though. Having a psychokinetic gift, he quickly finds ways to explore the city on his own and without permission. Compassionate to a fault, he uses this gift to the benefit of the hungry, narrowly skirting the law. He spends endless hours standing, motionless, facing southeast. His answers are always cryptic. He claims to do this to receive "transmissions from his planet" and that he is actually the doctor's own hallucination. After a few days Dr. Denis appears to be the only physician who still notices the polite, unproblematic patient. Rantés has earned the loyal following of the other patients and Dr. Denis' growing respect.
The doctor is aware that Rantés has been leaving without permission and has avoided taking his medicine; but he is impressed and he takes Rantés' requests seriously, persuading the head of pathology, Dr. Prieto, to hire him as a volunteer assistant. Prieto (Rubens Correa) admits that Rantés would be his first assistant in some time (having lost his due to budget cuts).
Surprising everyone, Rantés is visited by an attractive young lady. They clearly know each other and Dr. Denis hopes she can shed light on his mysterious patient's identity. Beatriz (Inés Vernengo) tells Denis of Rantés' work among children in a slum, where they met while working for an Evangelical mission; beyond that, she knows him as a "very good man" who she is only casually acquainted with. Dr. Denis is charmed by the woman and invites both of them to an outdoor concert. During the concert Rantés asks Beatriz to dance. He becomes starstruck as the orchestra plays Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Rantés eventually persuades the conductor to let him take the baton for the symphony's iconic Ode to Joy, which causes Rantés to be arrested.
Confronted by an angry hospital director (David Edery), Dr. Denis is less concerned for his job as he is for his impetuous friend, whom the director orders closely monitored and strictly medicated. Dr. Denis fears this could kill Rantés' unique personality and intellect. The director is unsympathetic and states:
"instead of making the police blotter, Rantés ends up in the front page next time: LUNATIC ORDERS MILITARY ATTACK."
to which Denis quickly retorts (referring to the Falklands War):
"that already happened, and I doubt it had anything to do with Rantés!"
Affected by the unwanted attention, Rantés broods and becomes rebellious. He seems tormented by Dr. Denis' lack of involvement, asking, "Doctor, why have you abandoned me?" He is also more upset by the mistreatment of other patients. After again escaping, he demands to see the director, but is turned away. His complaints are also rejected by the local newspaper. Dr. Denis believes that Rantés may never recover.
A modest box office draw when released in Argentina in April 1987, Man Facing Southeast received wider acclaim upon its video release later that year. The Secretariat of Culture submitted it for consideration by Academy of Motion Pictures for the 1987 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, though it was not nominated. Little known outside Argentina, Man Facing Southeast received wider exposure upon the 2001 release of Universal Pictures' K-PAX, whose similarity to the Argentine title (whose author and director, Eliseo Subiela, was not credited) was unmistakable to film enthusiasts and critics, among them Robert Koehler of Variety and Bob Strauss of the Los Angeles Times, both of whom expressed surprise at K-PAX author Gene Brewer's contention that Man Facing Southeast was unfamiliar to him. Film critics at MSNBC, for their part, commented that "both films are quite similar, though Man Facing Southeast is more ingenious and enigmatic.1 In turn, the film itself was originally characterized by Mark Leeper as a combination of David Bowie's The Man Who Fell to Earth and Jack Nicholson's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.2 Other critics have highlighted the metaphoric value of Rantés, himself, whose miraculous powers, concern for the poor, frank criticism of human hypocrisy and willingness to subject himself to what amounts to torture create a character with a clear parallel in Christianity.3
Bioy Casares, Adolfo. The Invention of Morel (short novel)
Membrez, Nancy J. (ed.) The Cinematic Art of Eliseo Subiela, Argentine Filmmaker. Lewiston, NY: Mellen Press, 2007.