Review: Corporate Accountability (2020)

courtesy of Sheffield Doc/Fest

In his documentaries, the Argentinian filmmaker Jonathan Perel deals with the troublesome past of his country, with an accent on the place of the actual happening. That was the case with his earlier feature-length Seventeen Monuments (2012), in which he visited monuments built on the locations where the torture took place in the dark period of the mid-to-late 70s, as well as with his more recent work, the lauded Toponimia (2015) that dealt with the almost architecturally identical four villages in the Tucamán province named after the military officers who died in the armed rebellion in the early 70s .

The 70s and the military regime crimes are also the subject of his newest film essay Corporate Accountability, but the real target that Perel wants to expose are the big corporations, domestic and international, and their co-operation with the dictatorship in the crimes against humanity, such as murders, abductions, forced disappearances and large scale lay-offs of the workforce. The documentary premiered earlier this year in the Forum section of Berlinale and it currently plays at Sheffield Doc|Fest.

The whole of the historiographic material for the film originates from the publication “Corporate Accountability for Crimes against Humanity, Repression of Workers during State Terrorism” published by the Argentinian Ministry of Justice and Human Rights in 2015. The rest of it is rather simplistic, but fitting work Perel mostly did himself: a succession of 32 shots of the incriminated industrial facilities by a hand-held camera from a car as the visual background for the filmmaker’s own narrating of the excerpts from the book itself.

Perel’s tone is not unemotional, but it can be considered a bit flat, which is in accordance with the factual tone of the book: it mainly consists of pure facts devoid of any kind of personal interpretation. It might not be easy for the most of the audience to chew up all the chunks of data Perel is serving, such as the number of victims, the nature of the crimes committed, the role of the companies’ management and security officers, the existence of the lists (the targeted workers were usually the union representatives), and the eventual benefits the companies got from the state during the turmoil or afterwards when their debts were transferred to the state. Later on, when he deals with the connected FIAT and their co-operants’ factories in the provinces of Córdoba, Morón and Santa Fe, the filmmaker even lists the names of the victims. However, there is something that could be read into the material from the visual component of the film, judging by the state of the facilities they are now in.

Perel’s methodology is not dissimilar to the approach of Radu Jude and Adrian Cioflanca for another Berlinale Forum title, The Exit of the Trains that dealt with the Iasi Pogrom in Romania during the WW2, and in which the filmmakers also used the recorded narration set against the photographs from the personal archives to chronicle the traumatic historical event. The key difference is, however, the sheer runtime: Perel’s film clocks only 68 minutes and therefore does not outstay its welcome for a screening in theatrical or online festival conditions that obviously. Nevertheless, Corporate Accountability is also an example of a hugely important film whose significance stands less for its cinematic merits and more for the contribution it makes to the society on the grounds of historiography, human rights and dealing with the past.

Courtesy of Berlinale Forum

Original title: Responsabilidad empresarial
Year: 2020
Runtime: 68′
Country: Argentina
Language: Spanish
Directed by: Jonathan Perel
Written by: Jonathan Perel
Narrator: Jonathan Perel
Cinematography by: Jonathan Perel
Editing by: Jonathan Perel
Sound by: Francisco Plosecki
Colourist: Alejandro Armaleo
Graphic design by: Lamas Burgariotti
Produced by: Jonathan Perel
Supported by: Fondo Nacional de las Arres