- Man Facing Southeast
Man Facing Southeast Directed by Eliseo Subiela Produced by Luján Pflaum
Hugo E. Lauría
Screenplay by Eliseo Subiela Starring Lorenzo Quinteros
Music by Pedro Aznar
Cinematography Ricardo de Angelis Editing by Luis César d'Angiolillo Distributed by FilmDallas Pictures (United States)
Release date(s) September 9, 1986(Toronto Film Festival) Running time 105 minutes Country Argentina Language Spanish
Man Facing Southeast is a Spanish-language motion picture originally released in Argentina in 1986 as Hombre mirando al sudeste.
A sunny summer morning early in 1985 finds the staff and patients going about their daily monotony at Buenos Aires' José Borda Psychiatric Hospital. Much like its surrounding Constitución borough, the institution combines quaintness and faded elegance with cold rationalist structures and more than a little dilapidation. A senior staff psychiatrist, Dr. Julio Denis (played by Lorenzo Quinteros) is surprised by news that the hall he supervises, a pavilion for non-violent delusional cases, has one patient too many.
Informed that the stranger is in the chapel, Dr. Denis finds the cavernous, modern structure filled with the sound of a virtuoso organ performance unlike the hospital had been treated to since losing its chapel organist to budget cutbacks, years earlier. 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" (as exotic a name in Argentina as it would be in the United States, for instance), and this convinces Dr. Denis that yet another fugitive has snuck into the hospital in the hope of evading the law. The patient stays, however, and, though Dr. Denis approves of Rantés' caring touch for the other patients, his claims bemuse the doctor, who now suspects the man is a genius using his talents as a charade.
Julio Denis is a highly professional, though lonely, man, whose recent divorce left him with a jaded attitude towards life and even his work. His wife having remarried, he must settle for brief, weekly outings with his two children and grainy home movies of their days as a happy family, which he views almost nightly in his new apartment with his saxophone to console him. Rantés, far from oblivious to the wounded Dr. Denis, takes as much of an interest in his troubles as the doctor takes in Rantés, who becomes "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 genius is also very well-read and, impressed, soon uses his senior staff prerogatives to include Rantés in outings to cafés and even a visit to a touring Moscow State Circus performance with the two children.
Rantés is no ordinary man, his claims notwithstanding. Possessing 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 problems with the law. He spends endless hours standing motionless in the hospital commons, facing southeast. His answers always cryptic, he contends that he does this to receive "transmissions from his planet" and that, far from hallucinating, he is but the doctor's own hallucination. A few days into this, it would almost be just as well, since Dr. Denis appears to be the only physician who still notices the polite, unproblematic patient. Rantés has, by now, earned the loyal following of the other patients and Dr. Denis' growing respect.
The doctor is fully aware that Rantés has been taking liberties with curfews and has avoided taking his medicine; but his esteem for him prevents him from interfering and he takes Rantés' requests seriously, persuading the head of pathology at the hospital, Dr. Prieto, to hire him as a volunteer assistant. Prieto (Rubens Correa) is a practical man and accepts, admitting that Rantés would be his first assistant in some time (having lost his last one during recent budget cuts).
Surprising even staffers that had long since stopped noticing him, Rantés is visited one afternoon by an attractive young lady. They clearly know each other and this intrigues Dr. Denis, who hopes she can shed light as to his mysterious patient's identity. Beatriz (Inés Vernengo) tells Denis of Rantés' work among children in a slum, where she and Rantés met through their work for an Evangelical mission there; beyond that, she speaks in general terms about the "very good man" with whom she seems only casually acquainted. The lonely Dr. Denis is charmed, however, and takes the opportunity of an upcoming outdoor Philharmonic concert to invite both friends for a night out. Popular in Buenos Aires in the summertime, these outdoor concerts are casual affairs and Rantés thinks nothing of asking Beatriz to dance. He becomes starstruck as the orchestra plays further into Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and, anything but shy, Rantés persuades the conductor to let him take the baton for the performance of the symphony's iconic Ode to Joy, a delight to the orchestra and audience that, however, sends Rantés into police custody.
Facing a hostile 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, something Denis fears could kill Rantés' unique personality and intellect. These pleas find no sympathy in the director, however, lest:
"instead of making the police blotter, Rantés ends up in the front page next time: LUNATIC ORDERS MILITARY ATTACK."
to which Denis quickly retorted:
"that already happened, and I doubt it had anything to do with Rantés!"
More affected by the unwanted attention than by his sedatives, Rantés broods and becomes increasingly rebellious. Rantés seems less tormented by his treatment than by Dr. Denis' disinvolvement during all this, asking "Doctor, why have you abandoned me?" True to his principles, he takes umbrage less for his own mistreatment as for that of the other patients' and, again escaping after his demands to see the director are turned away, his complaints are likewise rejected at a nearby newspaper bureau. Dr. Denis dutifully brings him back from police custody, by now having come to terms that Rantés may never recover.
Pier Paolo Pasolini's Teorema is a possible source of inspiration. 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. 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.
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