Wednesday, November 13, 2019

#2,508. Fatherland (2011)

Directed By: Nicolas Prividera

Starring: Felix Bruzzone, José Celestino Campusano, Lucía Cedrón

Tagline: "Argentina through the words of those who lay buried in Buenos Aires' famed La Recoleta Cemetery"

Trivia: Made its premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival

Written and directed by Nicolas Prividera, 2011’s Fatherland is a very unique documentary. Set primarily within the confines of the famed La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the film gives the dead one more chance to speak their piece while also casting a light on the politics and philosophies that divide individuals in life, only to fade away with the passage of time. 

Throughout Fatherland, Prividera invites a variety of people to read aloud from selected letters and writings of those who are now buried in La Recoleta (in most cases, these readings are carried out while the person is standing next to, or outside of, the author’s final resting place). The cemetery is quite old; it was founded by the Recoleta monks in 1822, and a large number of dignitaries, former Argentinian Presidents, military generals and even some revolutionaries have been buried there over the years. Evita Peron, wife of President Juan Peron and a well-respected humanitarian whose exploits were popularized on both stage and screen (Alan Parker’s 1996 musical Evita, starring Madonna in the title role, was based on Peron), is laid to rest in La Recoleta. Hers is obviously the most visited gravesite in the entire cemetery; over the course of Fatherland, a class touring Le Recoleta pauses there for a quick history lesson, and a group of elderly citizens sing a song praising the former first lady. Also buried in La Recoleta is Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, general and president who overthrew Evita’s husband in 1955 and forced him into exile (one of Fatherland’s most poignant moments comes late in the film, when an anonymous letter, written by a member of the group that kidnapped and executed Aramburu in 1970, is read aloud at the former leader’s graveside). 

Of course, the above examples are just scratching the surface; many letters and essays are read during Fatherland’s 100 minute runtime, some dating back to the middle of the 18th century, when Argentina was in the throes of revolution and civil war. We hear from both sides of these events, and it’s interesting to note that some of these former adversaries in life are now interred only a few hundred yards from each other. 

Even La Recoleta itself isn’t immune to the effects of time; in one of the film’s more noteworthy sequences, Prividera shows us several laborers repairing the cemetery (portions of La Recoleta are in terrible shape. There are walls with missing crypt covers, exposing the coffins within them to the elements, and some monuments have been broken or nearly obliterated). He then punctuates these images with a shot of the final resting place of David Allena, who was himself the caretaker of La Recoleta from 1881 to 1910. 

Along with being quite beautiful (Prividera often focuses his camera on the picturesque statues and mausoleums that adorn the cemetery), Fatherland is also thought-provoking. Many of the country’s leaders and finest thinkers were at one point willing to fight and kill for a cause or an ideology. Now, decades or even a century later, the concepts and philosophies that separated them have faded into obscurity, and are all but forgotten. 

But there’s more to Fatherland than a commentary on the futility of social and political conflict; the movie also gives voice to the dead. So often, a cemetery is seen as nothing more than a collection of headstones, a place where the dead lay silent. Fatherland reminds us that the deceased were once very much alive, and were as passionate about their beliefs as anyone living today. 

Unfortunately, Fatherland does run a bit too long; Prividera could have gotten these points across in half the time. Also, the readers who recite the various texts are often flat, doing so with little emotion, which occasionally made me lose interest in what they were saying. But even with its flaws, I found Fatherland to be one of the most intriguing documentaries I’ve seen in quite some time.

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