La batalla de Chile: La lucha de un pueblo sin armas (The Battle of Chile, 1975/1976/1979)

The “Third Cinema” movement may have kicked off with Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino’s The Hour of the Furnaces (1968), but in a decade of revolutions few made as many waves throughout the continent and internationally as the one that deposed Socialist leader Salvador Allende on 11 September 1973. This period is covered in detail by Patricio Guzmán in a series of films made in the late-1970s, and followed up decades later with the reflective Chile, la memoria obstinada (Chile, Obstinate Memory, 1997).


Primera parte: La insurrección de la burguesía (Part I: The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie, 1975)

This first part of Guzmán’s trilogy about the downfall of Salvador Allende is urgent political filmmaking that still feels relevant today. To a large extent, it is a careful laying out of events early in 1973 around a plebiscite and subsequent tactics by the opposition to Allende to unseat him from government and derail his policies, so in a sense it does feel like a lot of footage of protests and vox pops with people out on the streets. However, the footage has clarity and seems carefully structured and researched, and images of middle-class Chileans screaming out for impeachment of the left-wing Allende does seem to resonate through time. It also builds to a real coup de cinéma, which is chilling at the same time as setting up the imminent events for the coup against Allende. If anything, I’d have liked a bit more discussion of what exactly Allende’s policies were and where his unpopularity was rooted, but it is filmmaking with passion and purpose.

Segunda parte: El golpe de estado (Part II: The Coup d’État, 1976)

This second part moves from the abortive coup attempt in late-June 1973 through to the events of 11 September 1973, when Pinochet was installed in power to turn back the Marxist policies of Salvador Allende. Again, Guzmán goes into great detail about the way events evolved, from the transport strikes and street protests in favour of Allende, through to the fragile political situation involving the Christian Democrats (and the Catholic Church), the hints of a coup being organised by the military forces in Valparaíso (and the assassination of a high-ranking officer loyal to Allende in order to prevent word getting to him). Throughout the film are these teachable moments about how fascist, anti-revolutionary forces organise and destabilise a country, before pledging to restore the stability they themselves undermined (in collusion with business, media and powerful political interests) in a show of military force. The end of the film still shows that the angry determination of the workers was an obstacle yet to be dealt with by Pinochet and the coup leaders, which takes us into part III of the documentary.

Tercera parte: El poder popular (Part III: Popular Power, 1979)

The third part steps back from the messy end of Part II (September 1973) and turns its focus instead to the people, the workers and their bosses, those who were wanting the government to deliver on their promises and were trying to lead the attempts to make Chile a better place for the workers. It shows their struggles and difficulties, the ways in which strikes and bourgeois actions prevented certain elements of the grand plans to nationalise industries, and the way in which government support didn’t always deliver on its promises. It’s a little more diffuse than the previous parts in lacking its focus on Allende himself and the attempts to topple him, but it provides an interesting epilogue to the work of revolutionary activity at all levels of society.

Film posterCREDITS
Director Patricio Guzmán; Cinematographer Jorge Müller Silva; Length 263 minutes (Part I: 97 minutes; Part II: 78 minutes; Part III: 88 minutes).
Seen at home (DVD), London, Monday 2 July/Wednesday 4 July/Thursday 12 July 2018.

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Pelo malo (Bad Hair, 2013)

One narrative strategy that’s been quite successful for smaller, less-industrialised and more socially conservative filmmaking nations (I’m thinking Iran in the 1990s) has been to focus a story around a child using what is outwardly a fairly whimsical conceit — in this case that Junior (Samuel Lange Zambrano) doesn’t like his frizzy hair and wants to straighten it — and use this to make trenchant comments about a range of fairly weighty societal issues. Because Junior’s search for a hair straightening solution here is merely a source of occasional comedy. More to the point is what it implies about Junior’s place in society: he’s something of an outsider, as his now-departed father was black, so his hair is a marker of his difference from his mother Marta (Samantha Castillo), who struggles to hold down a job and take care of her two kids (including a distinctly more-loved baby from a different, equally absent, father). Junior’s focus on his appearance is also contextualised within a mediated world of body image obsession, which affects both him and particularly his (apparently only) friend, a chubby young neighbour girl who likes princess dresses and whose mother holds fat-loss clinics in her flat (though they look more like exorcisms for all the good they achieve). This in turn prompts Marta to a mild homophobic panic about her son’s sexuality, which you can track in off-hand comments as well as Marta’s suspicion at both the local shopkeeper and the interest shown by Junior’s black aunt. After all, none of these themes are in any way forced by the filmmaking, which largely avoids melodrama and retains its subtle domestic focus, building up its themes gradually by being observant of the actors and their interactions. Along the way you get a sense of the lives of ordinary, poor Venezuelans, exposed to a lot of the same media messages while struggling to hold down jobs or relationships. For all the almost documentary ease with which it is put together, then, Pelo malo is a very carefully-structured and crafted film, and a very fine one at that.

Bad Hair film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Mariana Rondón; Cinematographer Micaela Cajahuaringa; Starring Samuel Lange Zambrano, Samantha Castillo; Length 93 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Victoria, London, Monday 2 February 2015.