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Killing the Dead

(2019, Giménez)
A film from Paraguay

"Those that come here must be buried. We know that's how it has to be."

That's the principle by which Pastor and Dionisio (Ever Enciso and Aníbal Ortíz) live by. Their job is to bury the bodies of political victims of the 1978 dictatorship in Paraguay. But when one of these "bodies" turns up not as "dead" as he should be, Pastor and Dionisio must figure out whether to follow their rules and protect both their lives or follow their conscience endangering all three in the aptly titled drama, Killing the Dead (or Matar a un Muerto).

Directed by Hugo Giménez, this was Paraguay's submission for the Academy Awards in 2020, and you can easily see why. Matar a un Muerto is gorgeously shot and directed, taking a lot of advantage of its rural setting, the vegetation, and the resulting lights and shadows. Giménez does a great job of putting his actors in places where these natural elements either hide them or highlight them, depending on their situation.

The film features dialogue in Spanish and in Guaraní, a native language of the region. Unfortunately, I realized late that the version had none of these native language, substituting it with some not-so-good dubbing. Because of that, I felt that Enciso's performance felt a bit forced, but judging from some clips I saw on the trailer, where he speaks Guaraní, it seems it was a result of the dubbing.

But putting his vocal performances aside, both Enciso and Ortíz do a great job of conveying the moral dilemma that their characters find themselves in with their expressions and body language. However, even though the focus should be them, I wish the character of the surviving victim (Jorge Román) had been fleshed out a bit more. As it is, he feels more like a plot device than an actual character.

Finally, not only is the pace of the film on the slow side, but it lacks a true climatic moment to heighten the end result. There is some tension in the last act as the two men are visited by a superior, but it never really feels like the rhythm spikes too much. Regardless of that, Matar a un Muerto is a contemplative drama that looks at the far reaching consequences of the ruthlessness of those above, and how willing we might be to just go with the flow and bury what needs to be buried, instead of standing up for what's right.