'Denial of social classes is the true problem'
The directors of Los dueños talk to the Herald about the 'social prisons' of smaller communities
After its more than promising world première at last year’s Critics’ Week of the Cannes Film Festival, the Argentine feature Los dueños (The Owners), by Agustín Toscano and Ezequiel Radusky, has now been locally released. An incisive and clever new take on class struggle, Los dueños is a film to be treasured and remembered for a long time.
The story in a nutshell: Sergio, Rubén and Alicia are caretakers of a farming estate in the province of Tucumán. When the owners are away from home, the caretakers secretly occupy the property and emulate their lifestyle as they play house. The big problem is that the owners have a tendency to come back unannounced, so the delicate state of things can be broken at any time, and at a high price. Thespians-turned-filmmakers Agustín Toscano and Ezequiel Radusky spoke to the Herald about their first film together.
Why make a film on class struggle in Argentina?
When we started with the plot of the film, we weren’t thinking to address a particular theme. In fact, we never do so when we think about making a play or a film. But as we started to talk about the plot of Los dueños, everybody would tell us: “Oh, it’s about class struggle.” And then we realized we didn’t actually identify with the word “struggle.” In a struggle there are good and bad guys, and that’s not what we aim at. We prefer to talk about relationships between the classes.
What do you mean?
We believe that the denial of some classes is, perhaps, the true problem. On both sides. The rich somehow deny the existence of the poor, or sometimes it seems they would prefer the poor didn’t exist. The middle class want to be rich, so they complain about their class and so somehow deny it. As expected, the poor hate their social and economic status, and they can only look at what’s above them. So they find no escape. This way, nobody is satisfied where they are, everybody wants something else, something extremely different from what they have.
And that’s at the core of Los dueños.
Yes, that’s what happens in Tucumán, in Argentina, in Latin America ... Perhaps it also happens in other places, but in different ways. When we screened the film in Greece, which is in a critical situation, people would tell us that what they saw in the story was what was happening in Europe: Germany doesn’t allow small countries like Greece to grow, but Greece admires Germany and wants to be like it. In turn, Greece would love to have the power to block smaller countries. And so on and so forth.
Why did you choose a rural setting to explore this conflict?
A farming estate is a small universe where owners and workers live together in a very intimate manner. Everyday life, the constant and mutual surveillance, whatever happens in there: it all stays in the farm, a place that hides in it all the secrets of those who live there.
So this is the scenario in Tucumán.
No doubt. Tucumán is the smallest province of the country and the one with the highest population density, and many times it functions as though it were a social prison: everybody knows everybody else, they are aware of what the others do, whom they are with, whom they do business with, whom they sleep with, and whom they fight with. A farming estate is exactly like that: a prison with a life sentence to live in a place with no privacy or anonymity.
What about the capital?
The city of San Miguel de Tucumán is much more complicated, extremely hostile and violent, the mix is even larger than what we show in the film. We wanted to deal with a farming estate because there’s more control in the outside. But the lack of control is in what happens inside the characters.
Let’s talk about the dynamics of power between owners and workers...
This is where money and know-how come into play. The workers know what has to be done, but need the money of the owners to make things happen. The owners believe they know what has to be done, and know that without their money nothing will happen. Almost nobody works, almost nobody does what they are supposed to do.
Because everything is blurred, nothing is too rigid, and this is very typical of Tucumán, very Argentine too. People work but it seems they don’t like working. People are not what they want to be, but it’s hard to understand what they really want to be. This is where the singularity of Los dueños lies.
As regards influences, there are traces of Jean Genet’s The Maids and Claude Chabrol’s The Ceremony.
Yes, and there’s something very important these two works share with Los dueños: the workers are actors. All of them, to a larger or lesser degree, perform for their bosses — only that in our film they don’t hate them that much.
And there’s also Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana.
In fact, Buñuel, Chabrol, and Fassbinder are our most important references. They all tell stories about common people that you could find around the corner, in a bar, at a party. They all build characters filled with such huge flaws and sound virtues that you can’t help seeing yourself mirrored in them.