La Dosis (English title: The Dose). 2020.
Directed & Written by Martín Kraut.
Starring Carlos Portaluppi, Ignacio Rogers, Lorena Vega, Arturo Bonin, Pablo Cano, Jonathan Da Rosa, Maitina De Marco, Germán de Silva, Julia Martínez Rubio, & Gonzalo Martinez.
Not Rated / 93 minutes
Drama / Thriller
DISCLAIMER: The following essay contains SPOILERS!
So, be careful.
Something I love about Fantasia is that it’s a festival where we get to see new films by directors we already know and at the same time we get many debut features from directors busy trying to make a lasting impression in the industry. I’ve covered Fantasia now for a couple years and it’s fascinating how many first-time features are as brilliant as films by already established directors. La Dosis is Martín Kraut’s first full-length film. It’s his first credit as director in 8 years since his short Que miren. You’d never know because Kraut tells a strong, strange, and ominous story with confident direction as much as with a playful deviousness.
Kraut’s screenplay centres on Marcos (Carlos Portaluppi), a man past middle-aged working as a nurse in a private clinic. He works nights. And one evening we see him save a patient, only to later put them out of their misery. Nobody’s the wiser. Until the arrival of Gabriel (Ignacio Rogers), which shakes up the ward, as well as Marcos. Gabriel is a younger, more handsome nurse. His charm works on everybody. Except for Marcos. When the older nurse discovers he and Gabriel are very much alike it rocks the foundations of his world, and his morality.
La Dosis is a smart, taut morality play. Although there are other characters around them the whole film is focused on Marcos and Gabriel, and their duel-like relationship from the minute Gabriel walks through the clinic doors. Their relationship epitomises friction between generations, as the older nurse fears replacement by the younger, and likewise the butting heads of masculinity. The story offers an interesting look at morality when it comes to euthanasia. It’s just as much a stark exploration of how we trust people like doctors and nurses with our lives each time we step inside a hospital, and if one of those people has ill intentions then, healthy or not, we may never leave again.
There exists an extremely thin veil between life and death in a hospital. One moment a patient’s fine, the next they could be gone. Marcos commits a “heroic act” for a dying patient, then decides to end the same patient’s life, as if operating that thin veil himself at will. That veil’s thin enough. But nurses can act as either an angel to their patient, or a Grim Reaper— they’re there to comfort us, but also, in some cases, they’re like our shepherd towards the final destination of death.
The nurse as Grim Reaper is a duality unto itself, dependant on their morality. We can look at it as divided by what Marcos defines himself late in the film: either killing out of “pity” or killing for “pleasure.” Nurses are often affectionately nicknamed Angels of Mercy, which is the side Marcos represents— not quite an angel, not totally Grim Reaper, either. Then there’s the opposite: the nurse who takes on a role as Grim Reaper, like Gabriel, whose killing has nought to do with mercy. While you may not agree with euthanasia, nor in turn with Marcos’s sense of morality, it’s still obvious Gabriel sees human life as a game that he’s able to control, particularly after his decision to put down a patient who wasn’t terminally ill but merely pissed him off.Marcos and Gabriel symbolise two sides of a moral coin: pity v. pleasure, right v. wrong. They’re each representative of the possibilities in human nature, even when it comes to a job we assume people do because they want to help others. Curiously, their names connect on a significant mythological level. Marcos is derived from the Roman god Mars, whereas Gabriel comes from the archangel, originally from the Hebrew Bible. In Roman art, Mars is often depicted in two ways: (i) as bearded and mature (Marcos), or (ii) young and clean-shaven (Gabriel). In certain medieval writings, the archangel Gabriel is connected to Mars and his name is used as another name for the planet (Worlds in Collision by Immanuel Velikovsky, 1950). In this light, Marcos and Gabriel are like disparate reflections of one morality, each challenging the validity of the other.
It doesn’t make things any easier that Gabriel and Marcos are two men, the war of their personalities made worse due to the warring of their masculinities. Masculinity comes to bear on the characters, as well as the plot, in a few different ways. First, the two nurses are, in their own ways, playing God; God is the supreme patriarch. Marcos’s god-like powers are interrupted by the younger, more handsome, more charming Gabriel which erupts into an all-out power struggle between the two nurses. Secondly, Gabriel toys with Marcos sexually, to the point we can’t even be sure if he’s serious or not. The scene in the bar where the two men sit together and see two other men kissing across the room has a palpable tension that’s playing off a clear threatened masculinity in Marcos.
There’s also a fear on Marcos’s part of being consumed by the younger generation. He worries he’s being figuratively and literally replaced. When we see Marcos trying to use his fancy new can opener, or when we witness him trying to get his landlord to take a 30-year-old TV so he might get back a damage deposit, it’s clear that some of his anxieties lie in feeling like a dinosaur compared to the younger Gabriel. The ultimate irony is they’re exactly alike. They both kill people— remember, proper euthanasia involves a patient wanting to die, not a nurse prescribing death for an unsuspecting patient like Marcos— and, like the clash of Boomers v. millennials we see today online, neither side is willing to admit their own glaring faults, that they’re one and the same in more ways than one. Perhaps the biggest kick in the head is that, in the end, nothing really changes. Men stay in charge— often, like Marcos, they’re promoted— and business continues as usual.
There are points in La Dosis during which the pace lags because it feels like things are about to explode into something faster, then they never do. It’s a quiet, subtle film. Those lagging moments aren’t enough to derail Kraut’s story or thematic intentions. This is a strange little film because it’s not quite a thriller, yet does feel thriller-like at the best of times. Most of all, Portaluppi and Rogers do a spirited job with their characters, never letting them feel like fabricated constructs. Both leads have a quiet intensity that gradually builds between them, and, in spite of great direction by Kraut, it’s their chemistry that truly makes the whole story. You could almost say the plot’s not what matters. What really matters are the psychological journeys of these characters.
La Dosis could, and likely will, spark new debates about euthanasia. The dual/duelling natures of Marcos and Gabriel speak to different sides of the argument, they act as an allegory of the debate itself. One of the best things Kraut does is refuse to paint Marcos, the supposed angel in the equation, as an entirely innocent, pitiable character. And it’s this flawed morality that takes the plot in exciting directions, forcing the audience to question Marcos and, perhaps, also ourselves in the process.