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Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway (2019) is the latest turn from Spanish auteur Miguel Llanso, who is attending Helsinki’s Love and Anarchy film festival, where audiences can see the movie—and then wonder what on Earth they just witnessed.
Known for his Afrofuturistic work (Crumbs, 2015), Llanso sticks to the futuristic part, but swaps African culture for a strange Estonian dystopia.
In a vaguely-defined future, we follow CIA agent DT Gagano, a pizza-loving hunchback dwarf, as he enters a virtual-reality program called Psychobook with his partner, Palmer Eldritch. Their mission is to eliminate a virus called the Soviet Union, represented in the program by an avatar wearing Stalin’s mask. Meanwhile, Gagano’s girlfriend waits outside, hoping to open a kickboxing gym in the near future.
If the set-up sounds bizarre, the whole thing only gets weirder as the story unfolds, and we meet another menagerie of impossible characters: a goon of a man calling himself President while wearing a Batman-like costume, or an Italian gentleman called Mr. Sophistication, or who could forget the three kung fu masters: Spaghetti, Ravioli and Balthazar.
Llanso creates his futuristic vision with minimal and very rudimentary effects. This is certainly not a Hollywood blockbuster dystopia, but one in which virtual reality avatars wear paper masks and the characters deliver even their emotionally charged lines in a deadpan manner. The aesthetic is not so much modern CGI as it is 8-bit graphics. Rather than futuristic, the technology actually looks retro.
Still, the story is compelling, albeit confusing. The main characters—good guys, villains and those in between—all have clearly defined goals and their differing goals establish effective conflicts between them.
And if you make it all the way to the end of the wacky adventure, you might just find out what Stalin wants—and why the hunchback dwarf loves pizza so much.
‘Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway’ screens at HIFF Love and Anarchy on September 21 and 26.