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KARLOVY VARY 2024 Competition

Review: Our Lovely Pig Slaughter


- Debuting filmmaker Adam Martinec delivers a probe into Czech identity and generational conflict set against the fading tradition of domestic pig slaughter

Review: Our Lovely Pig Slaughter
l-r: Marek Majnuš, Antonín Budínský, Aleš Bílík, Jan Hnízda and Lubomír Velička in Our Lovely Pig Slaughter

Emerging Czech filmmaker Adam Martinec has presented his feature-length debut, Our Lovely Pig Slaughter [+see also:
interview: Adam Martinec
film profile
, also his graduation film, in the Crystal Globe Competition at the Karlovy Vary IFF. Martinec has previously established a distinctive style in his short films, such as Sugar and Salt (2018), which adopts a subtle melancholic tone as it explores an invisible tragedy among ageing friends, and Anatomy of a Czech Afternoon (2020), a nuanced social thriller addressing collective indifference with tragic consequences.

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Martinec's works are rooted in Czech tradition, often exploring themes of national identity – a central subject in his feature debut. Set on a rural homestead, Our Lovely Pig Slaughter focuses on the waning tradition of domestic pig slaughter, a ritual that unites the family across generations as they work together to transform a home-reared pig into an array of comestibles. In this film, the family gathering becomes a microcosm of personal, familial and societal tensions. The homestead serves as a battleground where gender divisions, generational friction, repressed opinions, unaired grievances and simmering resentments bubble up to the surface.

Paterfamilias Karel (Karel Martinec) organises the slaughter and leads the proceedings. The tradition faces unexpected hiccups owing to the butcher's damp gun cartridges, but this is merely a minor setback. Each member of Karel's extended family harbours repressed issues, turning the gathering into a bubbling cauldron of emotions and confrontations. Karel's elderly and ailing father-in-law struggles with the decision to inform Karel that this will be the last slaughter, as he can no longer raise another pig because of his advanced age. Meanwhile, Karel faces accusations from his children, who blame him for their mother's premature death. One of his daughters is also dealing with the breakdown of her marriage, adding another layer of tension.

Martinec, using a cast of non-professional actors, captures the domestic pig slaughter, now outlawed, with a documentary, almost ethnological, flair and a naturalistic approach courtesy of DoP David Hofmann. The family dynamics unfold against the backdrop of the traditional tasks involved in disembowelling a pig and processing it into food products like blood sausages. In this film, the director continues his exploration of Czech identity through a collective portrait that juxtaposes the conventions of older generations against the evolving cultural codes of the younger ones. This socio-psychological probe delves into local archetypes, highlighting the generational divide and the customs of the old world as they are influenced by social shifts impacting rural existence and its realities.

The director's signature style, which seamlessly blends the tragic and the banal in the vein of Bohumil Hrabal, is less pronounced here compared to his short works. The tragicomic elements are subdued, leaning more towards the melancholic tone seen in Sugar and Salt. Martinec employs dramatically charged moments, such as the disappearance of Karel's grandson following a conflict between his parents, to create a tense atmosphere suggestive of underlying tragedy. Similarly, the comic aspects are more subtly woven into the narrative and dialogue, even incorporating almost slapstick moments during the handling of the pig.

Our Lovely Pig Slaughter is a mature debut by a promising talent in Czech cinema. The film, framed from dusk until dawn around the slaughter, eschews a conventional narrative structure in favour of a fragmentary group portrait set against a folk backdrop. Martinec adeptly manages the storytelling logistics of four generations clashing within a single courtyard in an anatomy of a Czech family and Czechness itself.

Our Lovely Pig Slaughter is a Czech-Slovak co-production staged by Breathless Films and co-produced by filmsomnia. CinemArt will release the film theatrically in the Czech Republic on 8 August.

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