Ferrua, Pietro


A Film by Ricardo Wullicher

ArgentinaCommunication. Filmsworking class movementstrikeFERRUA, Pietro (Piero) Michele Stefano (1930 - ....)

Argentina, 1973, color, 95’.

Director: Ricardo Wullicher
Assistant Director: Felipe López
Guión: José María Paolantonio
Photography: Miguel Rodríguez
Cámara: Carmelo Lobótrico
Escenografía: Saulo Benavente
Vestuario: Graciela Galán
Música: Francisco Kropfl; Gustavo Beytelman
Montaje: Oscar Souto
Sound: Miguel Babuini
Distribution: Talar Films
Producciones Filmación

Héctor Alterio
Lautaro Murúa
Juan Carlos Gené
Osvaldo Bonnet
Cipe Lincovsky
Luis Medina Castro
Héctor Pellegrini
Walter Vidarte
Mario Luciani
Héctor Biuchet
Francisco Cocuzza
Enzo Bai.
Wullicher was mostly known in this country for his research on Borges, while this film did not circulate very much. Coming before La Patagonia rebelde by Olivera, it also deals with early 19th century union busting in Argentina and even uses at least one of its main actors, the very versatile Héctor Alterio.
You will consult, in vain, your usual Spanish or bilingual dictionary to search for the meaning of the title. If you do not find an explanation, don’t be surprised: it is the name of a secular tree that grows in the Rio de la Plata nations and that is (or, rather, was) used to make tannin, a substance necessary to treat leather.
The film starts in London, because it is England that dominates the market of cowhide and similar products at the eve of WWI. The British are authorized by the local government of Santa Fé to exploit the production of tannin and to hire a local work force to cut the trees. The action is situated in Villa Guillermina where six hundred workers are controlled by 30 policemen. The anarchists (we see a portrait of Bakunin, a red and black flag, the motto “Neither God nor Masters”) try to organize the forest workers with the aid of maritime workers adhering to the F.O.R.A.
The police interrupts meetings, interrogates the activists, writes down their names and delivers the list to the employers, who have them deported. But workers meet clandestinely in the woods and organize strikes for better conditions (working 12 hours a day at 50 degrees Centigrade — 110 Fahrenheit — is a factor in decimating the population). The union decides to occupy the plants but the repression is inexorable and the Company prevails.
Ten years after, a union organizer is freed from prison and restarts the fight immediately. This time he is provided a printing machine by the comrades. He starts denouncing the hard conditions for workers in the plant: no protecting masks, no provisions against the generalized tubercolosis. He starts also denouncing the deforestation aspect: 1,500,000 trees have been cut and not replaced, with all the ecological consequences that one can imagine. In London they worry and ask Mr. Murphy (Héctor Alterio), the manager, to strike a deal with the union representative. But he refuses to be corrupted and becomes the victim designated to sacrifice. He tries to teach his wife and children some lessons in self-defense, but he will be killed himself, anyway.
After WWII, the film enters the third and last fragment of its three-generation history, in which mimosa trees from Australia replace “quebracho” as providers of tannin. British interests are no longer aimed at Argentinean forests, so workers are fired just when a new government and new laws protect them. Unfortunately commercial imperatives obliterate social aspects and the company calls it quits, but not before destroying the water supply for the population at large. One more example of the lack of humanity and morals of capitalism, whether British or Argentinean.
This film gives one more great example of the hard fights of the working class trying to protect their slowly gained and quickly eroded social conquests.
Pietro Ferrua