'El mal menor': What's behind the novel that inspired the Oscar-nominated Argentine film?
The third novel by C.E. Feiling, considered a classic horror novel in Argentina, deals with the world of dreams and death in Buenos Aires.
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When Argentinean screenwriter and film director Natalia Meta was beginning to conceive her second film, The Intruder, selected to represent her country at the 2022 Oscars for 'Best International Feature,' her friend Luis Chitarroni, a leading editor in Argentina, recommended that she read a cult horror novel in Argentina: El mal menor (The Lesser Evil), by C.E. Feiling.
"Chitarroni told me about the beginning of the novel, about the neighbor who complains about the noise of "los tacos, los ta-qui-tos" and that made me curious. I liked that the novel posed a degree of existence and a spatial location for the dream world, it made me think about the mystery of fantasy, how it arises, how it operates," Meta explained in an interview published a month ago on the Argentine government's culture website.
First published in 1996, El mal menor was the third — and last — novel by C.E. Feiling, an Argentine writer of English origin who saw his promising literary career cut short when he died of leukemia at the age of 36.
According to Meta, the book belongs to the gore genre, "it is hard and gruesome," she said, but she found it a perfect fit to conceive her film, a psychological thriller starring Erica Ricas, Cecilia Roth and Daniel Hendler, with a central theme that surrounds protagonist's (Inés) anguished relationship with dreams.
The script is inspired in El mal menor — set in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of San Telmo in 1993, the book tells the story of Inés Gaos, a beautiful, intelligent, cocaine-addicted owner of a gourmet restaurant, who has the power to move between waking and dreaming and let "intruders" filter in.
The "intruders" are evil beings of dreamlike origin who, having not been discovered and expelled in time, have acquired body and power, endangering the border between the world of dreams and reality. One of these fugitives, inspired by a Uruguayan mentalist, will make life impossible for the fragile and unbalanced Inés.
Feiling wrote much of his novel in 1994 during his stay at the University of Iowa, where he was a fellow in its prestigious International Writing Program.