Paris-based sales company Alief has swooped on international sales rights to horror-political thriller “Matadero” (“Slaughterhouse”), the awaited fiction feature debut of Argentina’s Santiago Fillol, co-scribe on Oliver Laxe’s Cannes winners “Mimosa” and “Fire Will Come.”
Co-written by Fillol, “Matadero” world premieres this week in Locarno’s main International Competition.
The film takes a stark look at a historic tale through the maniacal lens of U.S. filmmaker Jared (Julio Perillán), as he shoots a big-screen version of a 19th-century text by Argentine writer Estaban Echeverría, exploiting the times and their trappings to create a piece of cinema meant to dig itself into the collective consciousness.
Taking on tensions that boil over between landowners and laborers, Jared’s lofty vision for his adaptation will push the cast and crew to the brink. As his plot advances, ego and deception reign.
Fillol’s rendition takes place in 1970s rural Argentina, with a nod to the era’s recent grandiose cinema.
Fillol uses narration as a vehicle to tell the story of the clandestine film shoot through the recollections of Vicenta (Malena Villa), Jared’s young assistant.
In a powerful international partnership, “Matadero” is produced by Fernando Molnar and Sebastián Schindel at Argentina’s Magoya Films (“El Patrón”) and Antonio Pita at Cordoba-based Prisma Ciné (“El Vasco”), alongside Andrea Queralt at France’s 4à4 Productions (“Fire Will Come”) and José Ángel Alayon and Marina Alberti at Spain’s El Viaje FIlms (“El Mar Nos Mira De Lejos”) and Tània Balló at Catalonia’s Nina Films.
Alief has acquired world sales outside Argentina, France, Spain and Switzerland.
“We are thrilled to have locked the debut feature from Argentine New Wave filmmaker Santiago Fillol, whom has crafted a meta horror-political thriller full of mystery that we feel discerning audiences will embrace,” said Alief president Brett Walker.
Cast is rounded out by Ailín Salas (“Lulu”), Rafael Federman (“Rojo”), Lina Gorbaneva (“La Verdad”), Ernestina Gatti (“Bailarina”), David Szechtman (“Hortensia”) and Gustavo Javier Rodríguez.
For Miguel Angel Govea, a partner at Alief “‘Matadero’ is that rare Latin American film that turns genre convention on its head with an assured direction by Santiago Fillol and captivating performances by Argentine movie stars Julio Perillan, Malena Villa, Ailín Salas and Rafael Federman. “
He went on: “We discovered the film at Les Arcs work in progress, where it struck a chord. This final cut will spark serious interest of buyers, press and festival programmers during Locarno and beyond.”
“We believe that Alief’s experience in this type of film will boost international sales,” added producer Molnar.
Ahead of the world premiere in competition at Locarno’s Filmmakers of the Present strand, Fillol spoke with Variety about the project, artistic appropriation and Argentina’s film community.
Jared is an outsider filming a world he can only scratch the surface of. Should outsiders to a culture be the ones producing the art that portrays it?
What interests us in our film is precisely the tension that occurs when that foreign gaze collides with local gazes: when we see that the bloody class struggle that the American wants to represent collides with the gaze of local actors, who discuss that representation that’s being imposed on them and try to modify that representation, even altering it behind the filmmaker’s back.
The most important thing was to see how these conflicting representations collide in the scenes that they try to recreate: and that movie that Jared’s filming takes place essentially off-screen; we see them working the folds of a brutal representation of which we only glimpse the edges, the backstage of those scenes.
The audience sees the politically-charged culture war and metaphors that Echevarria hinted at in his text play out not only in Jared’s adaptation of the work but your adaptation of those themes. Can you speak to that?
We decided that the best way to work on a founding story like “El Matadero” by Echeverría, written around 1850, was to mirror it from another era. See an era from another era, the class violence of the origins of a country of brutal social imbalances, from the seventies that radically discussed that inequality.
Cinema-within-cinema is the instrument that allows us to approach the history of Argentina and its social conflicts in a simple way, since it allows different times and social conditions to be superimposed at each moment on the same shots and people, thus the tensions of what’s represented pass from the shot to the off-shot in a natural and vertiginous rhythm at the same time.
Those who claim class solidarity, that call for equity, are the ones who separate themselves from the working class on set. Do you feel it’s often those with privilege that feel they’re revolutionaries?
Every time one class tries to speak on behalf of another, tensions and struggles arise over the portrait that some propose of the others: Matadero tries to stage these tensions, but it’s not a thesis film. It doesn’t propose a thesis, but rather explores a conflictive universe that’s been present in our country since its origins: the first Argentine fiction, “El Matadero” by Echeverría, brutalizes the popular class by proposing a violent and resentful portrait where a group of slaughterers become outraged and kill a rich man like a cow in a slaughterhouse: the most emblematic building of the Argentine imaginary, the “asado” plant.
The representation of the class struggle and its violence opens us to the universal problem of what happens when we represent something: is it amplified, revealed, reproduced? Every era of strong conviction is also one of strong doubt. We decided that those doubts should have an important place in our work.
Do you feel it helps to have a hand in writing the script that you’re directing?
I wrote the script with two Argentine friends who don’t come from cinema, Edgardo Dobry, a poet, and Lucas Vermal, a philosopher. That was very important because their contributions enriched my view, which comes more from cinema. The writing of a film is a process of different stages. In the cinema we make, the scripts are re-written between rehearsals and shooting; then in montage, which is a deep reinterpretation of the script. The script is like a score that doesn’t exist until it’s played during filming and editing. That process is very organic for many filmmakers. As Truffaut said, “you have to shoot against the script and edit against the set,” trying to ensure that the material is always alive, always in motion.
Can you speak to the talent in Argentina, what the future holds for its filmmaking?
Argentina’s a country full of talent that knows how to reread its rich tradition, and foreign traditions, combining them in an original way. The future of Argentine cinema depends on the economic situation and the political will to defend cultural diversity so that it’s not only the sons of the bourgeoisie who can afford to make films in the country. In these moments of crisis, the future’s quite hazy.