The first time I made a ranking of the most repressive governments in the world, in 1979 in The Book of Lists #2, I designated Gen. Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay the winner of my Dictator of the Year award.
Killing the Dead (Matar a un muerto) takes place in Paraguay in 1978. Pastor (Ever Enciso) and Dionisio (Aníbal Ortiz) have an unusual job. Soldiers murder Stroessner’s opponents and send their bodies downriver, where Pastor, the boss, and Dionisio, his young assistant, are tasked with dragging them deep into the forest and burying them. Each day they receive radio messages telling them how many “packages” will be arriving.
One day, one of the “packages” turns out to be still alive. He is an Argentinian named Mario (Jorge Román). Pastor and Dionisio know that if they allow him to remain alive, they will be in big trouble. And big trouble in Stroessner’s Paraguay doesn’t mean just losing your job. Each of them wants the other to kill Mario, but, although they don’t hesitate to lock him up in a homemade cage, neither of them can bring himself to pull the trigger on Mario.
Meanwhile, using a small, broken radio, they try to follow the 1978 World Cup, which is being held in Argentina. Pastor and Dionisio agree to let Mario fix the radio’s antennae and soon the three are listening together.
Writer-director Hugo Giménez has said that he was inspired by Hannah Arendt’s concept of the “banality of evil”. Until they discover Mario, Pastor and Dionisio separate themselves from the reality of the “packages” they are burying and the fact that they are the final link in something terrible.