The Boss, Anatomy Of A Crime (El patrón, radiografía de un crimen)
Argentina (2014) Dir. Sebastián Schindel
This film, serving as a metaphor exploring corruption and prejudice in modern day Argentina, comes to us via former documentary maker Sebastián Schindel, adapting a novel by Elias Neuman, based on a true story and was fourteen years in the making. Clocking in at 90 minutes this immense effort hardly seems commensurate to this brisk length, but as they say “quality over quantity”.
Set in the unsuspecting world of the humble butcher, the story unfolds in a non-linear fashion opening with hotshot attorney Marcelo Digiovanni (Guillermo Pfening) taken on a murder case in exchange for paperwork for another case being fast tracked through the system. His client is Hermogenes (Joaquin Furriel) an illiterate farmhand who moves from Santiago to Buenos Aires with his wife Gladys (Mónica Lairana) to improve their lot in life.
Hermogenes gets a job in a butcher’s shop owned by the crooked Don Latuada (Luis Ziembrowski), who, impressed by Hermogenes’s work ethic has him run another of his shops after believing the current Peruvian manager is stealing from him. Hermogenes is soon taught how to cheat the customers with unsold and rotten meat, but Latuada’s bullying ways soon push Hermogenes to his limit with fatal consequences.
There is a chance this film might turn some people into a vegetarian after seeing slabs of meat being cleaned with bleach or offal turned into cutlets, but it also dent your confidence in humanity and view the judicial system askance. In essence there are two kinds of meat being abused here – the kind that ends up on our plates and the one slaving away for an unprincipled boss.
A lot of people will identify somewhat with the latter although unlikely to be on the same scale unless they are really as unfortunate as Hermogenes. With his lifelong knee injury, slow learning abilities and official documents which declare him “inept”, Hermogenes’s job prospects are hardly electrifying, thus the promise of his own shop, a handsome wage and a refurbished flat, it is no wonder Latuada appears like a saviour to him.
Under the tutelage of Armando (Germán de Silva) Hermogenes is shown how to make his shop successful, including the illicit back room practices involved in disguising and recycling unused or dodgy meat. The clinical detailing of these methods and the faithful reproduction of them in action not only puts the lengthy research into this story into perspective but will cause you to wince every time you pass your local butchers.
This probably made Sebastián Schindel very unpopular with Argentina’s meat trade, and it will be interesting to see if this had any effect on butcher’s sales and ending these disgraceful practices, yet the actual handiwork involved is rather impressive to watch, and done so convincingly that it comes across just as another dexterous skill required to do the job.
But this is actually all a metaphor for class discrepancy and social prejudices as well as a commentary on corruption. In one potent scene, Gladys, who also works as a cleaner for Latuada, is enthusing about how Mrs. Latuada has a separate room for her clothes and shoes while standing in a deep meat tray and washing herself with water from a kettle.
The kicker is that the couple, with Gladys now pregnant, are living in the cramped back room of the shop in squalid conditions while paying rent on a flat Latuada has clearly invented, taken out of Hermogenes’s wages which is whatever Latuada decides to give him, less the cost of any meat unsold.
Running concurrently to this story thread is that of Marcelo putting the case together as Hermogenes’s defence lawyer. He comes up against brick walls in the form of half-baked psychoanalysis reports and kneejerk dismissal of empathy towards Hermogenes because of his rural upbringing and mental setbacks. As Schindel tells it if Latuada doesn’t destroy Hermogenes the judicial system will.
The metaphors have largely been defenestrated here, by dint of this clear attack on the stuffy protocols of an elitist system which offers only covert discrimination towards a “second class citizen”. The courtroom scene at the end sees the smarmy prosecution believing his case is fait accompli since the judges are all learned men of high class who obviously don’t want to dirty their hands with a clear cut case of premeditated murder.
I won’t spoil the outcome – and kudos to Schindel for so deftly keeping us in suspense – but even with this melodramatic turn of events, this is arguably the most pointed Schindel gets with his commentary, and in truth, it is not hard to become invested in the situation through this viewpoint.
Yet, none of the characters – even Latuada – are being judged and deliberately being set up to be hated, sympathised or worshipped. Schindel lets them be as they are and allows their actions to sway our feelings. Granted Latuada comes across the worst but in a very perverse way, there is a kind of Del Boy side to his malfeasance when he turns on the charm to any unhappy customers.
As the scenes involving Marcelo are played out like a glossy drama, it rests upon the naturalistic retelling of the saga of slave Hermogenes and taskmaster Latuada to provide the requisite grittiness. The presentation even feels grey and grimier during this part of the story with the two central performances from Joaquin Furriel and Luis Ziembrowski providing the energy.
Schindel’s documentary history is palpably evident through many shots in this film, along with the intimacy of the camerawork, disciplined direction and probing allegorical script. What makes The Boss, Anatomy Of A Crime such an effecting and provocative work is that it is a based on reality – a reality we know exists, depicted with bold and incisive attack, care for its subject and keen desire to open our eyes.