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“I am not at all afraid of being classified as a Class B director, in fact, that would be an honor”

Interview with the filmmaker Martín Basterretche
Néstor Ponce
Translated by Nathanial Gardner

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Martín Basterretche, Film Director

1Martín Basterretche was born in La Plata. He started working with cinema out of passion and curiosity, and is a true self-taught director. He works in genre cinema and claims it. His films erase the egocentric "I" and emphasize the collective "we": a film is the result of teamwork, where actors, musicians, technicians, extras, co-scriptwriters, sound engineers, etc., play a leading role.

Clara Kovacic in El último zombi.

2NP: In various interviews you talk about your passion for literature (we'll come back to that topic later), but you say little about your training. How did you get to the cinema? Did you devour movies during your childhood and adolescence? Did you watch American series on television like the parody La historia sin fin or the horror saga of Narciso Ibañez Menta and El hombre que volvió de la muerte?


4The most important part of my training is having been, or in some way continue to be, a disciple of the Argentine critic and theoretician Ángel Faretta. I belonged to the side of libraries and cinephilia long before I was a filmmaker. I saw the series that you mention except El hombre que volvió de la muerte because he was not yet born and then sadly got lost. Everyone says it was a masterpiece. I also watched the Sábados de súper acción cycle. I remember him and I recognize him as a great influence on my desire and curiosity to know how those films were made. Sábados de súper acción shaped my imagination. I think my head works better with El hombre con visión de rayos than with Poltergeist or La historia sin fin. What I mean by this is that it works better with the invention mechanisms of the fantastic than with fantasy. That fantasy is also typical of the eighties, that is, of our childhood and I think we should flee from the nostalgia of adolescence.

5Curiosity always works like this: first you want to know how a fan works, then you take it apart, then you want to make fans. So then came learning the trade of a filmmaker. I never went to film school. I have learned with and from many over time and I am still learning. I am one of those who stand blank, naked, in front of each project feeling that first they must learn the specific technique with which they are going to carry out their project. Artists must be in a permanent state of learning.


7That shows in your production (for example, Punto ciego, Devoto, la invasión silenciosa, El último zombi) a notorious interest in genres (fantastic, horror). On the one hand, in your fictions, there is a Borgesian environment, or that of Bioy Casares, or even Silvina Ocampo. You work in closed, intriguing and mysterious spaces. I think of Los que aman, odian (the novel and the film), or Hitchcock's intrigues more than Agatha Christie (as seen in Devoto, la invasión silenciosa, which makes one think of Invasión, the film by Hugo Santiago with a script by Borges; or even in the comic strip El Eternauta by Héctor Oesterheld and Francisco Solano López). How do genres guide your work? What does it mean to film from the genre? Aren't you afraid that they will classify you as a B-series filmmaker, that you will lock yourself in a niche?


9I appreciate the quotes you mention. Indeed, they were part of the creation of my films along with others like Marco Denevi or John Carpenter. I must mention that, El último zombi is loosely based on Adolfo Bioy Casares' El gran Serafín.

10I understand cinema through genres. The genres were, are and will be the code of mutual recognition, the connection with the public and the best tool for authors to shape their ideas and represent them in the most sophisticated way. Genres, like themes, are always an excuse to talk about something, raw material to create something else, a beautiful piece of marble that hides a sculpture inside. I don't know why but I feel creatively comfortable in drama, thriller, and horror; in short, with the fantastic genre. Following the same logic, at the other end of the road is the most important thing: the audience. I am sure that all these elements link us with the real public that always accepts these proposals. This year El último zombi did very well in theaters and I think it is largely due to this issue.

11I am not at all afraid of being classified as a Class B director, in fact, it would be an honor for me. The American class B was a fabric of meaning, a complete and complex vision of the world, contrary to the very world through which it circulated. Now, class B in the sense of low resources, it is not something necessarily pleasant or admirable in itself, although I would like to emphasize that the directors of my generation have learned to work on the difficulty, to solve as we go, to work as a team without bossing anyone around and we are proud to know how to do it, but that has to do with the codes of the trade, not with the movies themselves.

Poster Punto ciego (2014)


13One of the principles of the fantastic, as Cortázar said, is to start from the everyday. Your characters are beings that we can find around the corner. Does this allow you to fracture the boundaries between reality and fantasy?


15That's right, but I would add something more specific. In the Argentine fantastic genre, of which you mentioned some works, perhaps because of our tendency towards modesty, because of our smiling pessimism or because of tango, the irruption of "the other" is rigorously tiresome, quiet and almost normal in all its aspects. In our fantasy genre, the universe stays the same in everything except that one little fantastic element that quietly comes in and quietly leaves. On the other hand, in the fantastic from HG Wells to all American cinema, the fantastic breaks into the everyday as Cortázar says, yes, but it completely modifies our perception of the world and the world. So more than fracturing, I am interested in subtly introducing something fantastic into reality.


17A moment ago, we were talking about enclosed spaces. The spatial coordinates in your work constantly refer to the creation of an imaginary city, in the manner of Gabriel García Márquez's Macondo and, above all, Juan Carlos Onetti's Santa María. In your case, you created the city of Santa Sofía del Mar. Why that name? Your referent -and the filming location- is unquestionably the city of La Plata. Some critics speak of a trilogy built around the city. Is it closed for you? Or maybe you prepared a tetralogy?


19Several years ago, when making a film that was as inaccessible to me as getting to Mars, I thought that what I did should be pure cinema and total fiction, because it was going to be my only chance, my silver bullet. Since nothing guaranteed that I could make a second film, I sought to put everything I know into a single film and then tell myself "I did it" for the rest of my life in case I was not going to do anything else. So, I set out to create a city like the ones you mention. We could also add the Aquileia of Invasión, or Coppola's Megalopolis that hopefully I can realize one day. I made it with very few elements and surely very clumsy next to the great examples that you mention. But what is important is its mythical nature. Santa Sofía del Mar was created for my independent first feature Punto ciego and then I understood that, for that mythical nature to work, I had to complete a trilogy in the same city with themes like those developed in Devoto and El último zombi.

20Santa Sofía is a martyr of the orthodox faith, Sofía is also called my daughter, but the most important thing is that this Greek word that means wisdom marks the path that I think my trilogy, the cinema or us should follow.

21Let us remember that Don Porfirio says that Aquileia must be defended from invaders even if the population does not mind being invaded. He adds this beautiful Borgesian phrase: "The city is more than the people."

22Santa Sofía del Mar has something of La Plata, Mar del Plata, and some neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. It has a port, universities, and beaches. Educated and kind people live there, there are almost no poor or rich, it is a small and young city. It seems to represent an idea of progress that the movies later deny. In none of the three films is the sea seen and I think that this builds an acceptable metaphor for the city.

Poster Devoto, la invasión silenciosa (2020)


24In all three films, from a thematic point of view, a topical issue appears: the conspiracy or the plot. One thinks of Borges or Sábato, as Argentine sources. In your case, is there a metaphor to reveal the hidden face of reality? Do you think that genre cinema can offer a political reading?


26Of course, cinema can have a political reading. Plot lines and states of control are common themes across genres, especially sci-fi, and my films are no stranger to it. But nowadays, either because of the internet or because of the general scarcity of central knowledge, these issues have turned into paranoia and silly conspiracy theories, some of them so childish that they even seem disseminated by the very power they claim to fight. For this reason, I like to think that my films are about these themes, but more about the secret. The secret is the great assassination of our time. The notion of secret includes something superior: the spiritual and the sacred.


28In El último zombi you use a classic resource from fantastic or horror movies: the mad or deranged scientist. However, I think, in your case, you present an effort to call the viewer to reflect: where does the world in which we live lead us? Are we running towards catastrophe? Perhaps for this reason, El último zombi is not a gore film: there is no blood or special effects (as can be seen, for example, in Argentine independent cinema, with Plaga Zombie, Plaga Zombie 2, the Pablo Parés parodies).


30Sure, we escape parody, but not humor. Humor is an excellent tool for telling stories that represent our civilization going down the drain. Traditionally, the mad scientist is the one who discovers with fear that the scientific explanation of the world that sucked is incomplete. That the universe is ordered and understood in a deeper and more mysterious way, and that represents horror. The superhuman or the subhuman, depending on the case, can appear to us as something horrifying. That would be "the ominous". They are usually tragic characters because of their intelligence. The most brilliant scientists are men of great intelligence who quickly understand their surroundings, although sometimes the experience can be traumatic because the building of their person collapses when they stand, or are stopped, in front of the abyss of "the other".

Frame El último zombi


32How is your work in directing actors? How did they react when you told them you wanted to make a zombie movie?


34Many actors do not want to make such films for fear of ridicule. They are right to worry. It even happens to me from time to time and I say to myself, why don't I do something less risky? Working with actors has no rules, or rather, each movie, each actor, each situation requires specific rules. I believe that each actor must find his way around “feeling of fear”, which is the specific feeling of this film. I can't get into that process. I say, "feeling of fear" and not "fear" because fear is something that we will always try to hide, not display. The idea is to show the effort to overcome fear with courage and modesty. Each actor has his method for the representation of emotions, either because of the acting training he received or because of his temperamental characteristics. As a director I know very well what I want, and I accompany them until they achieve it. It is a work of two, or rather of three: actor, partner, and director. I know what each character thinks, what he feels and what he means when he says something else, but I can't get into the creative process of a feeling, they do that alone. Luckily all of this comes to life and becomes real when you have a cast as talented and dedicated as this film has. It is an honor for me to have been able to bring them together. Then there is what for me is the great plus of acting: curiosity, that concern to know more about the film, to know beyond the composition of his character. This cast had all of this and I am grateful to them.


36When the pandemic is decreed, the character played by Clara Kovacic suffers a disorder and takes refuge in childhood, behaving like a girl. It is one of the strong moments of the film, which seems to shorten the distances -as we said before- between fiction and reality.


38Indeed, somehow with Melina Cherro, my friend and co-scriptwriter, we always thought of this film as the cover of the Titanic. How would each one behave if she had to be there? I always found very eloquent the mother who stays in the cabin reading her children a good night story, the old couple who go to bed while the water passes under the bed and the arrogance of Guggenheim and his servant. They are very emotional forms of bravery. In El último zombi there are a variety of reactions and Pato, Clara Kovacic's character, loses his mind. That also helped us to add humor to the second half of the story. Those touches of humor that decompress, the comic relief the film has. Clara knew how to interpret the proposal and made it grow with personal suggestions and finding the exact tone. I think it works quite well.

On set with El último zombi.


40We just talked about the special effects. The makeup is very good. How did you do with the whitish eyes of the infected? And with the violet gas that goes from mouth to mouth and transmits the pandemic? Or with Clara Kovacic’s the monstrous mouth?


42Once again, the maximum exploitation of the resources available to us in a medium-sized Argentine film. The makeup, hair and wardrobe people worked very well, as well as all the extras who are also actors and that adds credibility. Then, already in post-production, Lio Cornistein, a master of digital visual effects, intervened, and accentuated some makeup as well as composing the eyes with changing colors one by one, frame by frame in many cases. He also took care of the stretching mouths and purple smoke that is the ultimate digital compositing challenge. It took him many hours of work and a lot of trial and error to come up with the right method and software to do it.

Zombies surround the house where survivors take refuge.

43Zombie contamination. Clara Kovacic in the role of “Pato” (Duck)


45It can be said that El último zombi is a film that anticipates the future, because you finished it just before the pandemic... Also, at the bottom of the poster, it reads: "Soon we will be"...


47Ha ha! yeah maybe. Many years ago, a friend of mine would do a gag with his girlfriend, he would shout "Nobody understands me because I'm ahead of my time!" and the girlfriend retorted: “Yes, 20 minutes early. You are a genius that no one will remember."

48The last zombie was finished filming 8 days before the quarantine was imposed in Argentina. We were extremely lucky because if the filming was suspended it was a catastrophe from the production point of view. On the other hand, it is surprising how many similarities this story has with the Covid pandemic. In El último zombi there are epidemiologists, suspected viruses, isolations, massive infections, hygiene protocols, etc. I remember that just before filming a shot, a young technician was listening to the rehearsal of a text that included the word quarantine and asked the person next to him "What is quarantine?" A few days later it was going to be a new buzzwords of our times.


50Music is an important element for all types of cinema. When it comes to genre movies it is a must. How do you work with musicians? I even see that you composed some song lyrics for your film works.


52The music of my films is the work of two true geniuses, the Federico Mizrahi, and the composer Fernando Rabih. In the latter, Daniel “Manzana” Ibarrart, my old friend and partner, who is also a sound engineer, participated in the arrangements and some compositions. The talent and capacity for work of these men continues to amaze me, even when we have been collaborating for years. I put together the structure of the music, where music goes and where it doesn't, and what music goes in each part. Usually, Manzana helps me with this too. Then the composers compose. I always use the structural concept of Italian opera because I look for the form of the music to be linked to the narrative form. In Puccini, Verdi, and many others we find a main theme, leitmotiv of characters, derived climates, variations, instrumentation changes, etc. I have a general idea, like a map that I support on top of the movie, and then they transform my map into music. You also mention that I have composed some song lyrics, yes, but always with their metric advice.


54I imagine that making movies in Argentina today, even more so when it comes to genre films, must pose major production problems. How did you finance El último zombi?


56Yes, that's right. Filming in Argentina has become very difficult. Everything in our beloved Argentina is stupidly difficult. But I don't like to talk about money or production problems. I prefer to emphasize that despite everything, the film was very beautiful and people like it a lot. El último zombi was produced thanks to having won an award at INCAA in 2018.


58Finally, I saw that in your filmography there is a documentary work on the final that Estudiantes de La Plata played for the club world cup, against Barcelona, in 2009 in Abu Dhabi. Would this imply a preference for Estudiantes, one of the two football clubs in La Plata?


60Yes of course. I did several jobs for my club, (Estudiantes de La Plata) and that is probable the one that stands out the most. To have been part of one of the four most important parties in the “pincha’s” history is an honor for me and my children. Sport has always been a part of my life and I love my club. This is a club with a strong identity and sense of belonging and a large part of who I am, in art and in life, is Estudiantes de La Plata.

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Punto ciego (2016), 1h25m. Dir.: Martín Basterretche. Elenco: Alvaro Teruel, Corine Fonrouge, Luis Longhi, Adriana Ferrer.

Devoto, la invasión silenciosa (2020), 1h12m. Dir. Martín Basterretche. Elenco : Diego Cremonesi, Alexia Moyano, Gastón Cocchiarale, Luis Longhi, Jorge Takashima, Denise Van der Ploeg.

El último zombi (2022),1h21m. Dir.: Martín Basterretche Elenco: Matías Desiderio, Tony Lestingi, Clara Kovacic, Adriana Ferrer, Alexia Moyano, Francisco González Gil, Luis Longhi, Sofía Kali.


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List of illustrations

Caption Martín Basterretche, Film Director
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Caption Clara Kovacic in El último zombi.
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Caption Poster Punto ciego (2014)
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Caption Poster Devoto, la invasión silenciosa (2020)
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Caption Frame El último zombi
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Caption On set with El último zombi.
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Caption Zombies surround the house where survivors take refuge.
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Electronic reference

Néstor Ponce, “I am not at all afraid of being classified as a Class B director, in fact, that would be an honor”Amerika [Online], 25 | 2023, Online since 25 March 2023, connection on 17 June 2024. URL:; DOI:

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Nathanial Gardner

University of Glasgow

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-SA 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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