Sold to South Korea’s Apex Ent. by Alfredo Calvino’s Habanero Film Sales and set for a Feb. release in Argentina by Bernardo and Paula Zupnik’s Distribution Company, “The Boss, Anatomy of a Crime” is the first fiction feature from Sebastian Schindel’s who has carved out a reputation at a documentary filmmaker, most notably in the inspirational “Mundo Alas.” It shows. Opening the coldroom door on – literal – corruption in Argentina’s butcher’s trade, “The Boss” is sometimes a near beginner’s guide to worst practice chicanery in Argentina’s butchers’ business. (Rotten meat? Serve it in breaded cutlets, a more seasoned butcher recommends). 14 years from conception to rough cut, “The Boss,” a social issue drama with suspense elements, also turns on how and especially why a humble country lad, played as a doe-eyed ingenue by Joaquin Furriel, a well-known TV actor, comes to run a butcher’s shop and ends up knifing his tyrannical boss to death. In essence, it is a expose of modern day slavery.
A Busan Bank audience award winner – the fest’s only non-Asian official major plaudit this year – , and a runner-up Audience Award competitor at Warsaw Fest, “The Boss” screens in Mar del Plata’s Argentine Competition this weekend, then segues to Ventana Sur. “The Boss” also swept five kudos at Guadalajara’s 8th Films In Progress back in March. Just before Mar del Plata, Schindel talked to Variety about “The Boss’” documentary influence, and creation as a work of art. He says he’s no pro-veg activist, but anybody who has seen the “The Boss” won’t be so cavalier about their next choice of sirloin….
Through its denunciation of trade in rotten meat, “The Boss” delivers a blunt metaphor for corruption in Argentina, focusing too on an industry that is supposed to be a source of pride in the country, a national hallmark:
When I stumbled upon this story, what struck me most, was that for Argentineans meat is a national symbol, a source of pride, like soccer. We’re proud of our soccer. And in the same way that soccer in Argentina is riddled with corruption, to discover what is really done with meat was very disconcerting to discover as I did, going from butcher’s to butcher’s to see the different techniques and mechanisms used to allow rotten meat to be sold to customers. It seemed a perfect metaphor to start telling the story in film…
The metaphor strikes at the heart of a corrupt system, where the product also is corrupted….
Exactly. And since I come from the world of documentary cinema, I wanted to show it with the greatest possible level of authenticity: How the meat is cleaned, how it’s sold, the techniques used by butchers to sell it, as they go about convincing customers about what to buy and what not to buy. And also to learn – there is also a didactic side, which has nothing to do with the film as such – what things one should buy at the butcher’s at what things one shouldn’t.
Your documentary origins can be scene in the film:the in-frame clutter, the careful documentation abot how judges go about their business. In short, there’s great attention paid not only to the actors but also to their context…
Yes, realism was key. There had to be that feeling of something real. On the one hand, with butcher shops. But I also did great research about how the justice system works, criminal justice. All the locations are real, the butchers’ shops, as well as the judges’ offices. They are the real offices of criminal justice judges, judges that have to deal with murder cases, and those legal files we see in the film are files about murders, drug trafficking, real files. If you’ve got a good lawyer, you can walk out scott free and if you don’t have the economic means, and don’t have a lawyer, you can spend your entire life in prison.
Another element is class gulfs, reflected not only through what an unscrupulous man does – basically turning another man into his slave – but also, albeit more gently, the class contrast between the lawyer who tries to save this simple working man from the countryside.
Yes, exactly that. All those different facets were key: the contrast between two parallel lives, between two people who are probably about the same age, who are married, with babies, one of them middle class, a lawyer, with a very comfortable life, who only has to deal with trite conflicts like arguing with his wife about work; and the other person, in the same city, not very far away, probably in the same district – the life of Hermógenes. And I was interested in showing how these two beings have parallel lives, their worlds never meet or touch, but they are neighbors. I was also very interested in the issue of labor abuse, in this case it’s actually slavery. I think that labur abuse crops up at every level. There’s always someone with more power than somebody else, perhaps not as extreme as in the film, but I think we can all find an exploitative boss in our daily lives, bosses who try to abuse or manipulate their workers. I was interested in showing those power relationships.
Hermógenes, the victim, the butcher’s slave, walks with a limp, which is important in the film.
He says he fell from a horse when he was young. It’s a small anecdote, which for me is very symbolic. He says that thanks to that limp he was unable to do military service. And for many humble people in many countries it’s their only means of education. So there’s an official stamp on his passport which says that he’s been deemed unfit for military service. And there’s a play on words there: ‘not-apt’, becomes ‘inapt’. ‘Not apt’ means it’s due to physical disability, his limp; ‘inapt’ means useless. He confuses the two concepts and thinks he’s a useless person. So that person of humble origin, uneducated, blames himself for everything that happens to him. He doesn’t realize that he is being abused, exploited by his boss. Since he thinks he us useless, that’s why all those terrible things happen to him.
And that’s why he feels guilty for what he’s done… For him, there are no extenuating circumstances…. Regarding direction, you’ve said that you were looking for Rembrandt lighting…
Yes, I liked playing with light and dark, and when I was researching I came upon a Rembrandt painting, “Slaughtered Ox.” Rembrandt probably did two separate versions, and it’s an ox, strung up in a butcher’s shop, and that’s the light in the coldstorage room where meat is kept, in a butcher’s shop. For me that was very symbolic. I also wanted to work with real, but sharply contrasted, light, hence the abundance of dark settings; and also sharp color differences. The lawyer’s story isn’t shot or photographed in the same way as Hermógenes’ story. Hermógenes’ story is all hand-held camera, while the lawyer’s story is all tripod, or steady-cam, or travelling shots, but never hand-held. Hermógenes’ story is also full of many colors – the red of meat, while the story of the lawyer is not imbued with such strong colors. It’s calmer.
There’s also a contrast in the acting.
Yes, I very much liked the look portrayed by Joaquín Furiel, a lost look, of someone who doesn’t understand what’s happening to him, or around him; he doesn’t understand what’s going in the meat shop, he doesn’t understand what’s happening in the prison, and for me, in that look, lies the essence of the character. The work done by Joaquin Furiel for the construction of the character was truly remarkable. To start with, the make-up, which was very heavy, the color of his eyes was changed, using contact lenses, dental prosthesis to ruin his teeth, his skin was darkened, and roughened by exposure to the sun. But, above all, that, the construction of the character. He had to construct an accent, a way of speaking; he speaks with the special accent of someone from the countryside, deep Argentine. Then he worked a lot on the limp, the type of words such a character would use or not use. There was a great deal of rehearsal work and work for the construction of the character, with several actors, but especially with Joaquín Furiel.
Deep down, like other recent or upcoming Latin American films – Alonso Ruizpalacios’ “Güeros,” Brazilian Anna Muylaert’s “Where Is She?” seen in rough cut at Locarno. “The Boss” talks about the question of a lack of education. It’s one of the big background themes of liberal Latin America cinema. Had Hermógenes been more educated, he would not have accepted his situation, he would not have gotten into that situation perhaps….
Yes, that’s a way of looking at it. Had he been more educated, had he had the capacity to think about what was happening to him, he would have left the butcher’s.