‘Our Lovely Pig Slaughter’ Director Immerses His Characters in Bloody, Honored Tradition

Czech writer-director Adam Martinec has taken on a near-sacred Bohemian ritual in his Karlovy Vary Film Festival Official Competition world premiere “Our Lovely Pig Slaughter.”
The annual rendering of the film’s title, known in Czech as a zabijacka, dates back at least to the Middle Ages and has parallels in many other lands – but what fascinated Martinec about the event, he says, was the rich assortment of characters necessary to pull it off.
Most of the men gathered for the winter killing of a Moravian family’s pig reflect the director himself, he adds.
“Partly it was the bizarre setup of pig slaughter itself,” Martinec explains of his fascination. But his real interest in the strange but familial gathering, he says, was “secretly because I needed to confront myself with a picture of myself as a total idiot. Every negative person onscreen is inspired by me and by studying such individuals and their actions, I am teaching myself a lesson. I think that loneliness is very dangerous and I am scared of ending up alone in the same way the leading character is.”
Indeed, the film’s beleaguered master of ceremonies, Karel – played by Martinec’s father, Karel – does not get much sympathy from those gathered at the family farm for the killing and inevitable feast to follow. As he tries his best to keep the tribe of neighbors and friends on track, one dilemma after another dogs him. An angry daughter resents his past treatment of their mother, now gone to her grave, while Tonda, charged with carrying out the pig killing itself, has discovered his ammunition is damp and may not work.
The family patriarch, meanwhile, has decided this is the last time he’ll be hosting the complicated, expensive and messy event. And, of course, a nasty spying neighbor is threatening to report the gathering to the authorities, telling them domestic animal slaughter is now illegal under European Union law.
And that’s before the youngster Dusik, eager to witness his first pig slaughter, is forbidden to by his mother, prompting him to run away from home.
Martinec says the boy in particular reflects his own former self.
“Dusan’s storyline is inspired by a memory from my childhood,” the director says, “when my mother anxiously protected me from watching the slaughter of a pig at her parents’ place – and I say ‘anxiously’ intentionally because I vividly remember the fear and anxiety that gripped me about the unknown act of killing as she tried to protect me.”
Martinec recalls being close to his maternal grandfather, he says, “but because I was a city child to him, I always felt like I was disappointing him in some way. Several years later, just before his death, I had to help him kill the rabbits that he and my grandmother raised and that he simply couldn’t kill himself anymore. I thought he would respect me more as a man if I managed to do it – but then I realized that he never cared about that. He was just protecting me from the act of killing. He wasn’t particularly proud of being able to do it. He loved those animals and felt sorry for them. Even though it’s an everyday experience for the majority of the population of planet Earth, there is something very existential about killing an innocent animal.”
The event is also treated with reverence by Martinec, who introduces the family farm setting with the sounds of a historical Hussite chant from the 15th century rising amid the misty fields as Tonda arrives to take up his role.
The musical piece, traditionally played on occasions of state honors, serves a dual purpose, says Martinec. “On one hand, it touches on the traditional pig slaughter as something that is naturally disappearing. And on the other hand, it thematizes our national identity, with which we seem to have a constant struggle in certain respects.”
Martinec explains another bow to older generations, in a way, as also lending a kind of gravitas and authenticity to “Our Lovely Pig Slaughter”: the casting of his father in the central role.

“It was a real gamble,” he says. “I wasn’t sure until the very last moment because, being his son, my perception of his performance was biased. Even now, I’m not entirely certain how he managed to succeed. That’s something the audience will judge. However, he had a great attitude working with me, which helped us build another level of respect and understanding.”
A truthful exploration of family was part of the challenge, Martinec adds. “I was interested in how deep wounds are formed and the way we sometimes try to ignore them. I was curious about how behavioral patterns are passed down from generation to generation, patterns we are dissatisfied with but can only change a little. I also wanted to envision a dark future for myself if I don’t change something about myself.”
The director, who is screening at the fest his feature debut, explains he is also willing to take the risk of using non-actors, in part because of the rewards that can offer.
“I don’t want them to act. I simply orient them in the situation and explain what they want from others. In the vast majority of cases, they handle it themselves because they know these situations well. They constantly come up with something new and can’t repeat anything the same way actors do.”
As for the film’s main event, Martinec committed himself to capturing the slaughter in vivid detail, along with the many uses of authentic pig blood, the thorough butchering and the way nearly every part of the animal is used – and relished.
If the film is a love letter to meat eaters, Martinec says, “It is primarily saying that we should treat animals as well as we can and limit excessive meat consumption. I don’t understand a world where we overlook the horrific treatment of animals just because of a desire to eat cheap ham seven days a week.” 
But, he adds, “Vegetarians, please be understanding of the traditional pig slaughter.”

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