Slaughterhouses of Modernity
GER 2022, 80 min
The quasi-fascist architecture of Francisco Salamone's slaughterhouses in the Argentine pampas, the utopian buildings by Freddy Mamani Silvestre in El Alto, Bolivia, and the restorative "City Palace" in Berlin are the cornerstones of an analytical documentary film that explores the dual character of architectural modernism in the field of tension between avant-garde and political propaganda.
The actor Stefan Kolosko acts as a diver in the sunken city of Epecuén, where he paraphrases a text by Jorge Luis Borges, and as a curator in Berlin's "Humboldt Forum", where he enumerates the crimes of Wilhelm II. The architect Arno Brandlhuber comments on the reconstruction of the "Berlin City Palace".
The film was shot in Berlin, Bolivia and Argentina in 2021.
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Language: German, Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, German (SDH)
Contemporary cinema’s preeminent chronicler of architecture and its intersection with the ever-present crisis of 20th-century modernity, Heinz Emigholz returns with an alternately mournful and sly treatise on how the presence—and, in some cases, absence—of municipal and communal building architecture is inseparable from capitalist ideology. Focusing mainly on cities and provinces in Argentina, Germany, and Bolivia, Emigholz’s latest film is a work of quiet observation and historical excavation. From slaughterhouses by Francisco Salamone to the flooded former spa city of Epecuén to the newly built Humboldt Forum in Berlin, the film demonstrates the effect of capital on public spaces, where creation and destruction go hand in hand, and as always, Emigholz makes the journey one of intellectual force and cinematic beauty. — New York Film Festival
An Argentinean builder who has built council halls, cemetery gates and abattoirs in the pampa as if from a modernist assembly line. Then a Bolivian architect, whose gaudy functional buildings in the highland defy description and imagination. Last, but not least, a new old palace in the middle of Berlin. Connections are plentiful, none of them edifying. Heinz Emigholz uses them for a pamphlet against stylistic amnesia and historical falsification.
The first film in Heinz Emigholz’s series “Photography and beyond” was released in 1983 and, including the two works screened by DOK Leipzig this year in the Camera Lucida section, there are now 35. But although “Slaughterhouses of Modernity” uses a number of sequences from the other two works, it has little in common with them in terms of form and ductus. While the aforementioned rather minimalist films do without commentary and partly without inserts, this one is characterised by its edgy monologues and courageous use of stylistic inconsistencies. Polemics and black humour are not unusual in Emigholz’s universe. But one has never seen him spoiling for a fight as gleefully as in this complex exploration of German history and its ugly manifestations. Not so much a late work as a new departure. — Christoph Terhechte, DOK Leipzig
Making its world premiere in the CURRENTS section of the New York Film Festival this year is the newest structural treatise by acclaimed documentarian Heinz Emigholz: the brutally titled Slaughterhouses of Modernity. Intellectual and equally poetic, one need not carry a comprehensive understanding of modernism vis-à-vis postmodernism to be enraptured by Emigholz’s gift for montage. With canted camera angles and heroic close ups, Slaughterhouses of Modernity unfolds as a transfixing travelogue through the boundaries of nature and industry. Past and future. Civilization and apocalypse. Portraits of architecture that jut out like scars of a faded eon amidst indifferent topographies seeking to reclaim it. [...] Are these design practices inextricable from their cursed roots, or can they be reclaimed from their fascist mold? Emigholz has an answer, but the film isn’t just an 80-minute yes-or-no question. It’s a document of now, a history all its own. The film’s dynamic structural tableaus offer an unimpeded view of the present cast perpetually into the future. Like the structures photographed within it, Slaughterhouses of Modernity will also age out of the context it was made – to resist is to misunderstand the lessons of history. What will be left behind are breathtaking images of cinema’s most essential themes: that of time and space. – Anthony McKelroy, The Frida Cinema
Typically, in films past, Emigholz has relied almost exclusively on static shots of buildings, trusting in his raw footage and ambient soundtracks to do the speaking. The sheer size and scope of Slaughterhouses of Modernity (not to mention its vital message) demanded more, however. Emigholz has always referred to his films as “hard-core documentaries,” but the descriptor feels especially applicable to this cleverly cut, exhaustively researched, intelligently assembled crash course in the failings of 20th-century modernity. – Kayla McCulloch, Cinema St Louis
Libraries, court houses, churches, and (importantly for the film’s central thesis) slaughterhouses, mostly abandoned and in various states of decrepitude, reveal the retrospective ugliness — and broken promises — of this architectural ethos. The right angles and minimalist curves of now rust-streaked and flaking public buildings in the Buenos Aires Province towns of Pellegrini, Saldungaray, Laprida, Balcarce, Guaminí, Salliqueló, and Azul evoke a striving for aesthetic purity and strict functionalism that an architectural cognoscenti disillusioned with its aspirations (here represented by Emigholz) is eager to discredit. — Cosmo Bjorkenheim, Screen Slate
The titular slaughterhouses that “rise up like monuments or churches” in the pampas take the frame, each dominating the grassy plains around it. Some have been abandoned (one with an on-the-nose graffito: “Tell me baby, what’s your story?”), while others have been converted to museums or have at least been preserved. But the slaughterhouses merely serve as the central metaphor in Emigholz’s journey: afterwards, he shoots the flooded village of Villa Epecuén, the restoration of the Berlin Palace (which architect Arno Brandlhuber jumps in to editorialize as “one of the most disgusting buildings in the world”), and the antipode to these projects in Freddy Mamani Sylvestre’s utopian buildings of El Alto. — Zach Lewis, In Review Online
Next up is the latest film from one of world cinema’s great philosophers. Slaughterhouses of Modernity comes from director Heinz Emigholz, and while that name may not mean much to most filmgoers, for those with an interest in the intersection between film and architecture few names spark more excitement. Emigholz’s latest finds the director traversing three locales (Germany, Bolivia and Argentina), with the hopes of chronicling those areas relationships between art and architecture as well as the use of space speaks towards larger conversations about politics and political propaganda. Primarily focusing on the use of municipal/communal space in these areas, Slaughterhouses of Modernity sees a handful of voices pop up, discussing things ranging from the politics of slaughterhouses in Argentine provinces to dissertations on the flooded locales of the form spa city of Epecuen, all with Emigholz’s patented visual flourishes. Few filmmakers have been able to navigate the space between art and architecture as skillfully as the cult auteur, with this film in particular being one of his more emotionally stimulating. At just 80 minutes in length the film never overstays its welcome, and is able to be at once a thrilling experiment in cinematic architecture and also a politically charged artist statement about the relationship between city planning and capitalism. There is truly no other director working today quite like Heinz Emigholz. — Joshua Brunsting, Criterioncast.com
It is a beautiful, quietly poetic and brilliantly complex film about our shared past, which is carefully pieced together by a director with a profound interest in those intricate details that accumulate to form the entire history of humanity, as seen through the buildings that were built long before we were born, and will likely stand for centuries after our demise, our lives just coinciding with the growing legacy these buildings and their architects have left behind in human history. (more) — Matthew Joseph Jenner, International Cinephile Society
- New York Film Festival #60 im Lincoln Center
- DOK Leipzig - Deutscher Wettbewerb
- Mar del Plata IFF
- Cinema du Réel
- EMAF - European Media Art Festival
- JEONJU IFF
- IndieLisboa IFF
- Vilnius Documentary Film Festival
- FIFAAC - Compétition
From the Prologue of the Film
"The revolutionary findings of theoretical physics at the start of the last century had irreversible ramifications and led to people distancing themselves from traditional beliefs about space. That, in turn had wide-ranging consequences for architecture and film. The cinematic and architectural avant-gardes largely renounced traditional theater, with its formulaic narratives, Baroque accoutrements, and gestural manner. But in most cases, audiences did not possess the personal and political experience to be able to comprehend these upheavals and use them productively.
For a long time, religious and economic regimes that were characterized by coercion and terror impeded an enlightened approach to the introduction of scientific findings into a redefined human framework – and it still happens today. In this unwieldly and hard to regulate situation, terms such as tradition, modernism, and postmodernism took on lives of their own that were more or less detached from real-life society. They then beat a hasty retreat into the domains of political propaganda, attempts to police taste, and myths of individual self-fulfillment.
Confronted with the seemingly unavoidable rise and yet logical defeat of Western-influenced imperialism and the collapse of political blocs after the Second World War, the confusion among intellectual types became increasingly intrusive. An “end to history” was prematurely declared, and everything seemed possible once more: the naïve proclamation of a situation that might be desirable for art, but one that, politically, merely announced the next autocracy up to the reign of terror."
Heinz Emigholz in an interview with Christian Flemm from Filmmaker Magazine 2022
Filmmaker: Slaughterhouses of Modernity opens on the streets of El Alto, Bolivia, to piles of stones and views of doghouses, before ceding to images of dogs rifling through rubbish.
Emigholz: The filmmaker in Streetscapes [Dialogue] says to his analyst: “I can film a Le Corbusier building, but I could film a dogshed instead, and it would be a nice film, too.” I always had the desire to do just that. There are “Gehry”- and “Hadid”-kennels, doghouses in all possible modern styles.
Filmmaker: If a house, represented as two parallel, vertical lines with a unifying horizontal placed overtop, may be seen as the starting point for any conception of interior and exterior space, everything that follows might well be mere ornamentation. We’re well within the territory of architectural functionalism.
Emigholz: Don’t forget the cave, no right angles there. To build a safe place against the cold and the heat, against the rain and snow, is not at all trivial. But your statement reminds me of a joke by Adolf Loos: “When we find a mound in the forest, six foot long and three foot wide, with the shovels formed into a pyramid, we become serious and an inner voice tells us, someone is buried here. That is architecture.”
Filmmaker: In the hands of another filmmaker — Wim Wenders, for instance — this could have been an elegy to Modernism and its regimes of representation. But as John Erdman’s sardonic voiceover recapitulates a critical history of the 20th century, it is clear you have an ax to grind.
Emigholz: Slaughterhouses of Modernity is building up an argument, very slowly, discursively; through architecture and dog houses; through the “New Man” that the various ideologies wanted to build in the last century, and the aesthetic regimes that came with them; through the aftermath of the First World War, which lay the grounds for the Nazis; the activities of the Bauhaus; by paraphrasing a text of Jorge Luis Borges, and so on. It makes a point, right from the beginning, that something turned out to be deeply wrong.
Filmmaker: Erdman’s narration locates the origins of Modernism at the outset of the 20th century, in the “revolutionary findings of theoretical physics,” which led artists, writers and philosophers to “distance themselves from traditional beliefs about space.” I wonder if you could offer a personal, clarifying definition of Modernism that is beyond the works of art and literature that are often prescribed that label.
Emigholz: I am referring to existing definitions of Modernism, but I have no inclination to define it myself. I think there is no real substrate there anymore. “E=mc2,” of course, is one.
Filmmaker: Your inquiry is directed towards the European-inflected Modernism that made its way into South American architecture via colonial activities. You take us to Argentina, to see the slaughterhouses of Francisco Salamone and to Bolivia, to the festival halls designed by the indigenous architect Freddy Mamani Silvestre. A significant portion of the film also takes place in Berlin, where you live. What brought you back?
Emigholz: The film is ultimately about the Stadtschloss in Berlin and Wilhelm II, the last German Kaiser. He was an ur-Nazi. I am still personally attached to him, because he killed my grandfathers. The European aristocratic regimes got rid of the social movements by killing off their proletarians. My grandfathers were both carpenters in their twenties. Their wives were poor and left alone with children to take care of, both families were destroyed. So, the set was prepared for the appearance of a “strong Führer.”
Filmmaker: Then why spend a large part of the film in Argentina around abandoned slaughterhouses?
Emigholz: The problems I am dealing with are universal, a global network of destruction. The architect of the slaughterhouses, Francisco Salamone, was greatly influenced by fascist architects in Italy. As the film turns to his cemetery portal and slaughterhouse designs, slowly we begin to travel down the drain of Modernism. At the time of their construction, Argentina was incredibly rich: during the war they sold meat to all belligerent parties. That the slaughterhouses were built as monumental symbols is just nuts. The province of Buenos Aires had so much money that Salamone could realize his fantasies as a surplus. The slaughterhouses were eventually abandoned because of economic forces, the need to centralize the business. Few people outside Argentina know about them. I like to do research work with film.
You can read the full interview at the Filmmaker Magazine
Director and Screenplay
Stefan Kolosko, Arno Brandlhuber
Susanne Bredehöft, Heinz Emigholz, Kiev Stingl
Heinz Emigholz, Till Beckmann
Original Sound Recording
Esteban Bellotto, Rainer Gerlach, Ueli Etter, Markus Ruff
Till Beckmann, Heinz Emigholz
Angelika Hinterbrandner, Olaf Schäfer
Local Management Argentinia
Local Management Bolivia
Angel Cordero, Konrad Schlaich
Sound Design and Mixing
Christian Obermaier, Jochen Jezussek
Kiev Stingl „Einsam WEISS boys“
Viviana Kammel, Günter Thimm (rbb)
Rolf Bergmann (rbb)
Frieder Schlaich, Irene von Alberti
Die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien and Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg
October 9, 2022, New York Film Festival
German theatrical release
January 19, 2023
Section from the film „P.R.“ (2011) by Mathieu Brohan
Section from the film „Miscellanea II“ (2001) by Heinz Emigholz
Thanks to Arno Brandlhuber, Mathieu Brohan, Viviana Castro, Eugenia Cavallaro, Victor Choque, Angel Cordero, Marcelo Guardia Crespo, Hartmut Dorgerloh, Rubén Ghio, Alfred Hagemann, Ulrike Lorenz, Alejo Magarinos, Vanesa Neubauer, Camila Paredes, Jonathan Perel, Sergio Picazo, Ana Ramos, Freddy Mamani Silvestre, María Sueldo, Maia Vena, Hanns Zischler and Centro Cultural Salamone in Balcarce, Chamber of Commerce in Guamini, Offices of Culture in Alem, Azul, Carhué, Laprida, Pringles, Saliqueló and Pellegrini, Office of Tourism in Tres Lomas and Pym Films
Disc 1: Interview with the Bolivian architect Freddy Mamani
Disc 2: MAMANI IN EL ALTO (Heinz Emigholz, GER 2022, ca. 95 min.), SALAMONE, PAMPA (Heinz Emigholz, GER 2022, ca. 62 min.), Booklet with a text by Heinz Emigholz about the three films (German / English)
German, English, French
Dolby Digital 2.0 + 5.1
Softbox (Set Content: 2)
Rating (FSK - DE)
From 12 Years
DCP (2K, Color, 5.1, 25 fps)
From 12 years