If you want to hit an Argentine where it hurts, take away his carne. For Río Platenses, a heaping pile of meat is about as basic to a meal as rice and beans or potatoes are for the rest of Latin America. So imagine how scandalous a film about a corrupt butcher shop selling tainted meat would be for the proud gauchos and boastful porteños who hold their milanesas in almost sacred reverence. That film is Argentine documentary director Sebastián Schindel’s first narrative feature, El Patrón: Radiografía de un Crimen, and understandably it has caused quite a stir for its exposé of shady meat practices in the emblematic carnicerías of Buenos Aires.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg for the El Patrón’s uncomfortable relationship with Argentine reality, as its screenplay is actually based on the 30-year-old case of a mentally handicapped campesino who found himself effectively enslaved by a butcher-shop proprietor after leaving his provincial life to seek opportunity in the capital. The screenplay is structured as a thriller, bouncing between a courtroom drama in which a jaded lawyer reconnects with his sense of vocation as he passionately defends the humble campesino accused of murdering his boss, and flashbacks that reveal the grim series of events that led to the tragic denouement.
El Patrón‘s official trailer shows off the film’s dark, documentary aesthetic where dense atmosphere is transmitted through naturalistic design touches like rusty hooks, grimy walls and giant, rotting hocks of meat. The lighting stays on the dim side of things, taking full advantage of the butcher shop’s minimal natural light and tending toward a muted color palette dominated by muddy grays. Actor Joaquín Furriel’s performance as the exploited campesino, Hermógenes, has been one of the most critically praised aspects of the film, and while hair and makeup certainly deserve part of the credit for Hermógenes’ convincing characterization, the trailer gives a sense of Furriel’s timid, downward gaze and stoic rictus that have earned him accolades and awards across the world, most recently at the Guadalajara International Film Festival, where it picked up an award for Best Iberoamerican Actor.
In all, El Patrón: Radiografía de un Crimen appears to be another worthy addition to Argentina’s solid 21st-century filmography, but please note: this is not recommended viewing if you have plans for a steak-dinner afterward.