My notes on Los Que Vuelven (The Returned)
Director Laura Casabe – who also wrote, with Lisandro Colaberardino and Paulo Soria – mixes South American folklore with an indictment of historical crimes in this unsettling, ambitious, disturbing-rather-than-scary fable. It’s a more conventional melodrama than Casabe’s earlier La Valija de Benavidez, but has a lot of strangeness going for it … not least because it tells its story in overlapping, out-of-order chapters so we have to put the pieces together as we watch. Early on, while riding on a trap into the jungle, protagonist Julia (Maria Soldi) almost loses her parasol for a reason we don’t perceive – later in the film, this scene recurs and we find out the gruesome truth of what was lying in the road and made the wheel jump.
Julia is protective of her young son, who has arrived as a late-in-marriage miracle, but something about his origin is obscured, and her estate-owning husband Mariano (Alberto Ajaka) is coping with trouble among his indigenous workers, who are basically slaves, as a condition close to zombiehood is spreading. At the end of the first act, Julia stumbles into a waterfall – a site of stunning natural beauty – and glimpses native woman Keerana (Lali Gonzalez), whom she recognises. Looping back in time, we find childless Julia seeking aid from a local deity and Keerana working as a maid in the big house, where she can’t hide her resentment as colonisers chat offhandedly about wringing profit out of her ancestral lands.
Stories of native magic revenge are as old as colonialism – Kipling wrote a few – but this takes a more hallucinatory, dreamlike approach as men of limited vision (and it’s always men) are overwhelmed by forces they can’t understand. It’s not always an easy film to follow, but it’s an impressive, immersive watch.
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