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Our review of Fatherland (1986) (Blu-ray), published March 18th, 2016, is also available.
"Argentina Through the Words of Those Who Lay Buried in Buenos Aires' Famed La Recoleta Cemetery."
Love it, hate it, or avoid it altogether, you certainly can't accuse Fatherland of being unoriginal.
La Recoleta Cemetery inhabits some fourteen acres in the heart of Buenos Aires. Director Nicolás Prividera conducts us on a guided tour of sorts through this "city within a city," officially transformed into a necropolis in 1881 (though its roots as a "holy land" date centuries earlier), which corresponded with the formation of the modern Argentine state. Therein lay the country's founding fathers, among others, including the country's most famous citizen, Eva Duarte Peron, aka Evita.
Last remodeled at the close of the nineteenth century by Italian architect Juan Antonio Buschiazzo, La Recoleta's collection of tombs, mausoleums and monuments boasts a variety of styles, including Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Baroque, and Neo-Gothic. Haunted in his lifetime by iconic Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (who made walking the grounds a regular exercise), the property is also alleged to be haunted by many of its interred residents, in their afterlife.
Almost none of the above information comes from the film, by the way. Rather, Prividera chooses to start with a graphic prelude, made up of black and white footage documenting the numerous bloody struggles that played themselves out in the city's streets during the twentieth and early twenty first centuries.
Switching to color and the present day, Prividera then presents a series of shots featuring (unidentified) readers, quoting from the texts of memoirs, biographies, letters, poems and other historical documents, while standing in front of, or beside (often unidentified) graves. Once the recitation has concluded, a legend appears in the bottom right corner of the screen, identifying the text, it's author and date, and after some seconds, the reader appears to vanish. Next!
Note that these folks are not quoting pop song lyrics, propagandist slogans, or advertisements, most of which can usually be digested in small bites. On the contrary, these Argentinian sources are verbose, indeed. All of which, taken together, presents quite a triple-threat challenge for the viewer who only understands English. There are subtitles to translate the original Spanish soundtrack, but they add up to quite a bit of reading, to be done at the same time one is trying to keep track of the onscreen imagery.
In between literary passages, Prividera treats us to languid depictions of the graveyard's ground crew going about their daily maintenance routines. Additionally, tourists and local visitors make their way through, sharing the property with a large number of bugs, birds, and apparently stray cats.
Sounds like torture, does it? Well, it's certainly sensory overload at the very least, and having made it through the first fifteen minutes of Fatherland, I was wondering how on earth I'd get through the remaining eighty five. But then, something inexplicable happened—I couldn't turn it off!
Instead, I resolved to take in as much as possible (with the visuals taking precedence), and re-watch whatever I missed the first time through. Only then did it dawn on me that I was being manipulated by a subversive (if not perverted) work of cinematic genius. By the time the credits began rolling, I found myself slack-jawed by the decadent majesty of the necropolis and the (sometimes psychotic) passion of the voices being sounded by these narrators.
First Run Features comes through with a no-frills but otherwise flawless widescreen anamorphic presentation, with Dolby 2.0 Stereo audio, and English subtitles.
Obviously, Fatherland will only appeal to a minority of viewers who, like me, will wish that Prividera had tempered his unique abilities with a tighter edit. After all, we've got a limited time above ground.
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