Should movies have meaning? It’s fair to assume most people would say yes, but what does that mean for a movie to make sense? Should they try to resemble the real world and its complexities, or should they invent their own complexities, creating worlds with unique logic?
Most movies don’t try to offer a hard-and-fast decision, not viewing these positions as opposing sides, but instead preferring to pull some elements from the real world while inventing others. But some films reject the mix, shifting their sliders all the way to 100% reality or fantasy. This so-called “vow of chastity” stimulated the Dogma 95 movement to show a total conviction of realism.
A film like that of Miguel Llansó Jesus shows you the way to the highway is located exactly at the opposite end of the dial. A film held together with a logic solely of its own making, it asks viewers to forgo typical comforts like “consistency” in favor of an overall mood. He plays with James Bond, with The matrix, with Batman, with Jesus. Getting lost here isn’t a bug – it’s the main feature.
There is a plot, which involves CIA agents DT Gagano (Daniel Tadesse) and Palmer Eldritch (Augustin Mateo). The two live in the year 2035 and their mission takes place not in real life, but in a virtual world called Psychobook. The movement is different in Psychobook, a jerky type of stop motion. People also have avatars, which for Agents means cheap masks from Richard Pryor and Robert Redford.
Murder is supposedly impossible in Psychobook – it’s just a computer program after all – but something inside proves that belief to be very wrong. The two encounter a Soviet virus (the USSR is alive and well) that has the face of Joseph Stalin (Guillermo Llansó) and an Irish accent, and during their fight against the virus, Gagano becomes comatose, stranding him in Psychobook.
Inside, Gagano longs for his wife Malin (Gerda-Annette Allikas), who has her own dreams of opening a kickboxing studio. Gagano can access Malin, but only through his small television. Plagued by the Stalin virus, Gagano suddenly finds himself transported to a parallel reality called Betta Ethiopia where he is about to become emperor.
That sounds like a lot, because it is. Corn Jesus shows you don’t sweat. The film exists in a distinctly unreal world, from clothing to performance, which features intentionally crude English dubbing. The technology is old, vintage Macs and rotary phones. Stock footage is everywhere. There’s a free jazz soundtrack that keeps things light and loose as silly fights break out.
It may seem derailed. It does. But Llansó knows what he’s doing, and it’s worth staying. The actors all have good chemistry, given the circumstances. This is especially true in the intimate scenes between Gagano and Malin, which at least ground the film in emotional reality. While everything here is ironic, the actors never blink.
Talk to Morgue street of his influences, Llansó suggests “Hieronymus Bosch and Flemish Renaissance painters like Pieter Bruegel,” though he hopes he doesn’t sound too pretentious. The influences show: Jesus shows you overwhelms like a Bosch painting does, leaving the viewer unsure of where to look next.
It would be easy for a project like this to overreach, to try too hard to be wacky. When a Batman parody named Batfro (Solomon Tashe) appears, along with a mysterious Italian named Mr. Sophistication (Carlo Pironti), the parodies can start to feel overwhelming. But Llansó gets things done, a coherent plot emerges and the Starter the money he raised to shoot in Ethiopia really pays off. When Mr. Sophistication’s loosely defined plan to conquer Betta Ethiopia is revealed, it can be easy to connect the character to The real invasion of Italy.
Llanso said Morgue street that while filming in Ethiopia, he met an “old man who had been building a cave system for over 40 years. An angel came in his dreams and told him to build these tunnels and caves, so he did. He offered his tunnels to the Orthodox Church, as he believed his work had religious significance, but the Church saw nothing sacred in them. So Jesus shows you was able to film kung fu scenes there.
That’s the magic of this movie. It’s mind-blowing that it was even done, and with such style, it’s too much to ask to care if it also makes sense.
Jesus shows you the way to the highway is streaming on Amazon Premier.