Computers break down, pizza dough rises and spinning roundhouse kicks fly high in the one-of-a-kind psychedelic spy flick Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway. A follow up to his Jodorowsky-inspired debut Crumbs, director Miguel Llansó blends various genres of cinema into a quirky and zany work of art.
The year is 1997, but the Cold War is still raging on. The CIA is investigating a virtual reality called Psychobook that is killing agents who try to hack into its mainframe. Their best chance of finding and destroying the virus infecting Psychobook is to enlist their best in the business: Agent D.T. Gagano (played by the hunchbacked Daniel Tadesse, the 007 we deserve) and his partner Agent Palmer Eldritch (Agustín Mateo). Although he’s very good at his job, Agent Gagano plans to resign after this mission, and run a pizzeria and kick-boxing academy with his wife Malin (Gerda-Annette Allikas). But when Gagano’s and Eldritch’s avatars enter the simulation, they are trapped and attacked by the virus, who takes the form of Joseph Stalin.
Eldritch manages to escape, but he leaves behind Agent Gagano, imprisoned in Pyschobook. The virus makes a mirror doppelganger of Agent Gagano and sends him off to Beta Ethiopia, while Gagano’s original body is stuck in a coma back at CIA headquarters. There he is captured by the authoritarian Batfro, an archetypal African dictator, who dresses in an Adam West-era Batman costume, with the chest motif glitched out (for legal reasons). Gagano must find a way to escape Beta Ethiopia and return to his wife, unaware of the betrayal and double-crossing that awaits him back home.
“[A] one-of-a-kind psychedelic spy flick”
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway is a wild concoction of different genres. It has the grain of an exploitation film and the offbeat dialogue of arthouse film. The soundtrack alternates between brass-heavy jazz score of a ‘60s Bond film and 8-bit electronic beats inspired by ‘90s video games. The mass of primitive computers conveyed as advanced technology could categorize the film into cyberpunk or Afro-futurism. Then there’s the expertly choreographed kung-fu fight sequences set in Beta Ethiopia, with an unseen voice announcing “Round One…Fight!”
The cast consists of actors of different nationalities, with their dialogue overdubbed with American and British voices provided by five actors, purposely off-sync by a millisecond. Filming took place in Estonia, Latvia, Romania, Spain and Ethiopia. According to Llansó, he wanted to break down borders and make a movie with his friends from different parts of the planet. Llansó despises nationalism and describes himself as a globalist (but not in the conspiracy-theory sense of the word). Buried deep in the bizarreness of the movie is a commentary on power structures, portrayed by the CIA and Batfro abusing their authority, and how easily Stalin is able to manipulate foreign governments.
For the virtual reality of Psychobook, Llansó and his brother used stop motion, taking thousands upon thousands of photographs for hours upon hours to produce a few precious minutes of animation. The avatars appear in black morph suits, wearing masks of cut-out faces of famous actors like Robert Redford. Llansó said he wanted half the movie to be in stop motion, but after seeing how long it took to get a single minute of footage, he decided against it. Still, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s simply mind-blowing what they managed to stitch together.
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway began as a crowdfunding campaign and was built step-by-step from the ground up. The campaign only raised a bit more than 15,000 Euros (or $21,000). Even with its limited budget, I think the backers will be very pleased with the final product. For every roadblock, there’s a work-around. It’s a movie of many plots superglued together. The pieces wouldn’t normally fit in any other context, and some pieces might have come from completely different jigsaw puzzles, but in the context of this movie, where the outlandishness is accepted from the beginning, it works beautifully. It’s quirky, unpredictable and strangely touching. It had me grinning from ear to ear from start to finish.
“quirky, unpredictable and strangely touching.”
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway celebrated its North American premiere at the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival. The Festival runs until August 1, 2019 in beautiful Montreal, Canada. Click HERE to check out all of our continued coverage of the festival, and be sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to see silly photos, immediate film reactions, and the occasional photo of lunch.