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LOCARNO 2022 Cineasti del presente

Review: Matadero

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- Argentinian director Santiago Fillol transforms Esteban Echeverría's chilling tale into images

Review: Matadero
Malena Villa and Julio Perillán in Matadero

Argentinian director Santiago Fillol, co-director of the documentary Ich bin Enric Marco, selected by the Locarno Film Festival in 2009, and a regular collaborator of Oliver Laxe with whom he has written the scripts for Mimosas [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Oliver Laxe
film profile
]
in 2016 and Fire Will Come [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Óliver Laxe
film profile
]
in 2019, returns to Locarno in the Cineasti del presente competition to present his latest feature Matadero [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, an ambitious work which aims to transcribe into images the radical and revolutionary universe of El matadero by Esteban Echeverría.

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Echeverría's short story, written between 1838 and 1840, denounces the violent drifts and totalitarianism of the regime of Juan Manuel de Rosas by paralleling it with the cruelty of slaughterhouses, places emblematic of exploitation and death. El matadero tells the story of a group of peasants who decide to kill and eat a wealthy man, the symbol of an unjust and oppressive power created by the powerful for the powerful. The slaughterhouse serves Echeverría as the setting for this revolutionary carnage with a strong symbolic flavour. Despite the cult aura of the work, El matadero has never before been brought to the big screen. Santiago Fillol accepts the challenge, aware of the dangers that such an undertaking may entail: how can the extreme violence of acts that society no longer even considers human be represented? How to make topical a story that is set in the past and in a very specific era, that of Argentina in the first half of the 19th century?

The film opens with a quote from Echeverría: “the scene set in the slaughterhouse was to be seen, not written about,” a choice that immediately makes us understand which path Fillol has decided to take. Indeed, the director of Matadero questions from the outset the possibility and the feasibility of cinematically depicting the blind violence that possessed the peasants in the slaughterhouse. His film is dominated by the presence of a mysterious Argentinian director, Jared (Julio Perillán), who arrives in the Argentine pampas to shoot his latest film. What Jared wants is to stage the revolt of a group of labourers who decide to slaughter their masters, just like animals in a slaughterhouse.

Unlike Echeverría's work, the film takes place in 1973, a key moment in the history of Argentina, just before the decline of the Perón era (and the ensuing coup d'état), in which persecution against the left became increasingly strong and violent. The young actors in the film are in fact organising themselves to integrate the underground militancy. Matadero is a dedication to the idealists of the 1970s, to those who fought hard for a more just society, and this at the cost of their own lives. Fillol seems to want to remind us that it matters little who wins, the important thing is the struggle, the revolutionary force that animates the fight.

Despite a narrative that sometimes lacks rhythm and the radical momentum that dominates Echeverria’s work, Fillol nevertheless manages to create a personal and at times destabilising film. Choosing to set the story in the 1970s avoids the trap of the obsequious tribute while keeping the spirit of the original work alive. With Matadero, the Argentinian director stages the tensions, drives and power struggles of an era, that of the 1970s, still sadly relevant nowadays. Echeverria’s tale serves as a base for Fillol, as a matrix to tell the story of the clandestine shooting of a film through the memories of Vicenta (Malena Villa), Jared’s young assistant. Matadero is a film about revolution but also about the end of an era and the struggle to keep alive the hope for a better world, no matter the price.

Matadero was produced by Argentinian outfit Magoya Films in co-production with El Viaje Films (Spain), 4A4 Productions (France), Nina Produccions (Spain) and Prisma Cine (Argentina). British company Alief is handling world sales.

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(Translated from Italian)

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