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Esteban Echeverría wrote the first Argentinian work of fiction El matadero (The Slaughter Yard) somewhere between 1838 and 1840. Taking place in the 1830’s, it denounced the violence arisen from the totalitarian regime of Juan Manuel de Rosas, comparing it to the events taking place in the slaughterhouses. Set in a quasi-apocalyptic flooded Buenos Aires during Lent season, while a shortage of meat supply is ongoing, El matadero tells the story of a group of peasants who end up killing and devouring an upper-class man at the local slaughterhouse. Despite being a seminal work of Argentinian literature, in which Echeverría himself wrote that “the scene taking place in the slaughter yard was meant to be seen, not to be written”, El matadero has never been adapted to cinema before. Santiago Fillol, co-director of the documentary Ich bin Enric Marco (presented in Locarno in 2009) and a regular collaborator of Oliver Laxe (he is the co-screenwriter of Mimosas, 2016, and Fire Will Come, 2019), took the challenge of embarking on this ‘bigger than life’ journey, as he himself describes it. The film opens with Echeverría’s abovementioned quote, making its intentions and ambitions clear from the very beginning. But soon enough one will realise that what Fillol is questioning through his work is the possibility of creating those same images. The narrative of the film kicks off when Jared, an American B-series director, arrives in La Pampa in the 1970s to shoot a big film based on the short story. Things begin going wrong pretty soon and the shoot is halted. While the director’s madness progresses and him and the remaining small crew (made up of young left-wing militants) don’t give up on their efforts, shady events begin to arise off-screen. As history repeats itself, the fiction in which Echeverría portrayed the 1830s seems to be coming back and becoming a reality of that present moment, too. After all, it is Argentina in 1974: the end of Peronism is near and the coup d’état is approaching… Fillol’s Matadero is a work that finds clear references in Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie or the 1970s megalomaniac efforts of filmmakers such as Coppola and Herzog, but it is ultimately a film about failure: the failure of representation, the failure of cinema, the failure of revolution – which still can be beautiful.
Mauro Herce, director of photography for Matadero, won the Special Jury Prize in Concorso Cineasti del presente in 2015 with Dead Slow Ahead.