Argentinian history is intriguingly revised through the writings of those who made it in “Fatherland.” Footage consists of 100 minutes of people standing in Buenos Aires’ La Recoleta cemetery reading aloud from books, which may not sound very dynamic, but Nicolas Prividera takes care to ensure that place, people and prose illuminate one another to engrossing effect. Less personal than helmer’s “M,” which traced the story of his mother’s political disappearance, “Fatherland” has been picked up by First Run for Stateside distribution, suggesting that its thoughtful reflections may be of interest in other territories, too.
Pic opens with a striking four-minute sequence of riots, shootings, protests and executions from Argentinian history, accompanied by the country’s national anthem — hardly subtle, but perfectly in line with the docu’s subversive intent. Things then move to the cemetery, where all the great, good and downright bad of the nation lie side by side, making the place a kind of official history of the country in architectural form.
Contempo local writers and artists stand at tombs, reading extracts from novels and memoirs written by the dead buried inside them, including Evita Peron. The extracts date from the mid-19th century to the end of the military regime in the 1970s. A knowledge of local events is helpful when recognizing that some of the nation’s greatest men have written some truly barbaric stuff: “To repress the soulless, we need even more soulless judges,” wrote Domingo F. Sarmiento, today remembered as one of the country’s more humanitarian presidents. Loosely speaking, Argentinian history is presented as one of class struggle between supposed civilization and the supposed barbarism, with Prividera’s sympathies clearly lying with the latter.
Visually, the pic offers mostly long, static takes that sometimes overstay their welcome. Meanwhile, the soundwork suggests the cemetery is not as dead a place as it may seem. Between readings, Prividera records life there: A bunch of bored school kids file past Evita’s statue; a moth slowly crawls out of the frame; cemetery workers push coffins around on carts. In both its theme and treatment, the pic is redolent of John Gianvito’s experimental docu “Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind.” Indeed, Gianvito is referenced in the credits along with the likes of Bertolt Brecht, Pier Paolo Pasolini and, interestingly, John Carpenter.