Should movies make sense? It's fair to assume that most people would say yes, but what does it mean for a movie to make sense? Should they try to resemble the real world and its complexities, or should they make up complexities of their own, creating worlds with a unique logic?
Most movies don’t try to offer a hard and fast ruling, seeing these stances not as opposing sides but instead preferring to draw some elements from the real world while inventing others. But some movies reject the blend, moving their sliders up to 100% reality or fantasy. This so-called “Vow of Chastity” spurred the Dogme 95 movement to show a complete conviction to realism.
A movie like Miguel Llansó’s Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway is on the exact opposite end of the dial. A movie held together with a logic solely of its own creation, it asks viewers to forgo typical comforts like “coherency” in favor of a general vibe. It 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 concerns CIA agents DT Gagano ( Daniel Tadesse) and Palmer Eldritch (Augustin Mateo). The two live in 2035 and their assignment unfolds not in real life, but in a virtual world called Psychobook. Movement is different in Psychobook, a herky-jerky type of stop motion. People also have avatars, which for the agents means cheap Richard Pryor and Robert Redford masks.
Murder is supposed to be impossible in Psychobook — it’s just a computer program after all — but something inside is proving that belief very wrong. The two encounter a Soviet virus (the USSR is alive and well) which has the face of Joseph Stalin (Guillermo Llansó) and an Irish accent, and during their fight with the virus Gagano becomes comatose, stranding him in Psychobook.
While 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 her tiny TV. Tormented by the Stalin virus, Gagano suddenly finds himself transported to a parallel reality called Betta Ethiopia where he’s on the verge of becoming emperor.
This sounds like a lot, because it is. But Jesus Shows You doesn’t sweat it. The movie exists in a world which is distinctly unreal, from the clothing to the performances, 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.
This might sound like it goes off the rails. It does. But Llansó knows what he’s doing, and it’s worth sticking around. 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 movie in an emotional reality. While everything here is tongue in cheek, the actors are never winking.
Speaking to Rue Morgue about his influences, Llansó suggests “Hieronymus Bosch and the Flemish painters from the Renaissance like Pieter Bruegel,” while hoping 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 overshoot, try too hard to be wacky. When a Batman spoof named Batfro (Solomon Tashe) shows up, as well as a mysterious Italian named Mr. Sophistication (Carlo Pironti), the parodies can start to feel overwhelming. But Llansó keeps things moving, a coherent plot does emerge, and the Kickstarter money he raised to shoot in Ethiopia really pays off. When Mr. Sophistication’s loosely defined plan of conquering Betta Ethiopia is revealed, it can be easy to connect the character to Italy’s real invasion.
Llansó told Rue Morgue that when shooting in Ethiopia he encountered an “old guy that was building a system of caves over more than 40 years. An angel came into his dreams and told him to build these tunnels and caves, so he did. He offered his tunnels to the Orthodox Church, because he believed his work had some religious meaning, but the church saw nothing sacred there.” So Jesus Shows You was able to film some kung-fu scenes there.
That’s the magic of this movie. It’s stunning that it even got made, and with such style, that it’s asking too much to care if it also makes sense.
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway is streaming on Amazon Prime.