The Chilean coup in cinema



There is no shortage of good films about the coup that annihilated the great socialist experiment in Chile

Cinema has focused on the coup of September 11, 1973, which overthrew Salvador Allende and annihilated the great socialist experiment in Chile. There is no shortage of good films: whether fiction or documentaries; directly challenging the coup, or focusing on the previous period; focusing on the socialist experiment or sticking to brutal repression; talking about unexpected consequences or what happened in those days; or even choosing unsuspected directions in oblique allusions. The coup has attracted internationally renowned directors from other countries, as well as star casts. Which says well about the planetary rejection with which he was received and the horrors he committed to.

For the sake of understanding, we can divide the films into two heterogeneous but comprehensive batches. On the one hand, there are those carried out around the date of the events, and on the other hand, those that, already in the present century, bring distance and multiply approaches. Between the two, there is a temporal gap, which shows signs of a compensatory effort, such is the quantity and quality of the films that have appeared.


But, in any case, the trilogy by Patrício Guzmán shines in the sky as an insurmountable standard, who, having participated enthusiastically in the “Allende experiment”, would later film the coup and its consequences. The trilogy is titled The Battle of Chile (1979) and a subtitle that explains it: The struggle of a people without weapons. It documents in detail as a witness what the socialist and innovative project of Salvador Allende's government was. And then records how the right took power in 1973, amid a bloodbath, and began to meticulously dismantle the project. Filmed over many years, it was completed in 1979.

It consists of three films: The insurrection of the bourgeoisie, The military coup e People's power, for a total of around six hours. It was produced by Chris Marker, the Frenchman who was the greatest political documentary filmmaker there ever was, devoting himself to filming the revolutions of the XNUMXth century. It is a masterpiece and certainly the most important cinematographic achievement ever made about the dictatorships of Latin America.

Still in this first phase of films close to the events, we have:

It rains over Santiago (1976) – French film, but directed by a Chilean, focuses directly on the coup, giving all the emphasis to the collective (the people) and Popular Unity. Cast of European stars and soundtrack by Astor Piazolla. It was the first to have international repercussions.

Fellow President (1971) – Before the coup, this documentary recovers an interview between Allende and Régis Debray.

Missing (1982) – Better known as missing. It provided the great service of publicizing the brutality of the Pinochet regime to the world, thanks to being American produced, spoken in English and starring Jack Lemmon, who also won the Oscar for best actor, which generally catapults the film. to box office record. All of this is the long-range vision of a militant filmmaker, Costa-Gavras, who had already achieved fame with the film Z, which, although it dealt with an older attack, served as a denunciation of the Greek military dictatorship, the so-called “dictatorship of the colonels”, in force at the time. It had resounding international success and an extraordinary Jack Lemmon in the role of an American father whose son, a left-wing journalist in Allende's Chile, is one of the missing.

Years before, and under the aegis of Salvador Allende, this director had already made a militant film in Chile, wielding cinema as a weapon in the political struggle. Its about State of siege (1972), which tells, slightly fictionalized, the journey of Dan Mitrione, a secret agent from the United States who came to the Southern Cone (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) to teach the armed forces how to torture.

The agent was kidnapped and punished by the Tupamaros, the urban guerrilla group founded in Uruguay by a handful of brave men, including José Mujica and Raul Sendic. The film was banned among us, as it showed the practical application of the classes to a prisoner, under the Brazilian flag hanging on the wall. Censored for eight years by the military dictatorship that gagged Brazil.

The house of spirits (1993) – Danish film directed by Bille August, member of the Dogma Group, led by Lars von Trier. Adaptation of the memoirist novel by Isabel Allende, the president's daughter.

General minutes of Chile (1986) -From director Miguel Littin, who would address the topic again. His feat was to return clandestinely to Chile to film the Pinochet regime.

These are the films made in the past, closer to the events.


After a long period of silence, in the present century there is a resurgence of interest in the topic, which culminates around the half-century anniversary of the coup (1973-2023). Such a resurgence is being felt after almost being forgotten, when surveys became rare. From this interval onwards, films that either question the intricacies of the coup or, which increases its relevance, deal with the most unexpected derivations, are being asked to register.

Among them, new films by Patricio Guzmán stand out, who, although keeping his feet in the past, would start to address its developments. The pearl button (2015) is dedicated to a vast reflection on the disappeared, many of them thrown from a plane into the sea, an element of nature that controls the reflection in the film. It was also a practice in Brazil, an example of which is the case of Stuart Angel, the son of Zuzu Angel (in the soothing “Angélica”, by Chico Buarque: “I just wanted to rock my son/ Who lives in the darkness of the sea”).

The Argentine film koblic, starring the great Ricardo Darín, tells of an Air Force pilot who, in order to escape the macabre mission that extended to Argentina, is forced to flee and hide. Nostalgia for light (2010) films, in the Atacama Desert, the secret cemeteries of the dead and missing where, thirty years later, family members go to unearth bones. It has an incomparable plastic beauty. And, what was still missing, the director offers us a very complete biography: Salvador Allende (2004)

Another biography that was missing is that of Victor Jara, entitled Stadium Massacre (2019). The documentary retraces the life and death of this popular militant troubadour, active in the “Allende experiment”, one of the first to be slaughtered by the victorious military. Victor Jara's journey recalls the contribution of singer Zeca Afonso, whose proselytism in unions and schools was decisive for the Carnation Revolution in Portugal: no wonder his composition “Grândola vila morena” would be the password transmitted on the radio, triggering the insurrection .

Music legends Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger folk North American, were also at the forefront of popular struggles, the first in the Great Depression of the 1930s and the second after that, in protest songs and civil rights marches. In Brazil, Geraldo Vandré was on his way to being one of them, if the dictatorship had not ended his minstrel career. As for Victor Jara, he would become a symbol of the fight for freedom.

Santa Fe Street (2007) – The title alludes to the address where a family of militants lived under Allende, later mercilessly hunted by executioners.

Allende, my grandfather Allende (2015) brings the intimate and affectionate reminiscences of one of the president's granddaughters.

Neruda (2016), set many years before the coup, is narrated from the perspective of a police officer tasked with tracking down and not losing sight of the communist poet Pablo Neruda, Nobel Prize winner for literature. The police officer is played by popular Mexican actor Gael García Bernal.

Tony Manero (2008) presents a Chilean man obsessed with the protagonist of Saturday Night Fever, whose quirks and tics he imitates, and whom he embodies in television competitions. The backdrop is the 1973 coup.

A good example of indirect treatment is hurt (2004), which tells the story of the unlikely friendship between two boys in Allende's time, one from the bourgeoisie and the other from poverty areas, united in a socialist educational experiment. In particular, the way they live during this time and the subsequent repression.

DO NOT (2012) – Again Gael Garcia Bernal plays the protagonist, involved in the campaign for “No” in the plebiscite called to guarantee Pinochet’s stay in power, which the popular vote refused to endorse.

From Chile, or from Chilean filmmakers in exile, they also came to us Dawson Island 10 (2009), from the name of an island where there was a clandestine concentration camp, and After death (2011), the coup from the point of view of the morgue worker who processes the piles of corpses that arrive. Directed by Pablo Larraín, the same as DO NOT, Neruda and Tony Manero, and which announces the satire Count, horror film in which Pinochet is a vampire…

Relevant films came from foreign filmmakers. From Sweden, The black knight (2007), narrating the exploits of the Swedish ambassador and the risks he took to save a large number of persecuted people, sheltering them and taking them away from their executioners, to transport them outside the walls safe and sound. From Germany, love and revolution (2015), also titled Cologne, about another concentration and torture camp, run by a former Nazi officer disguised as a missionary.

Santiago, Italy (2018) is the work of the great director Nanni Moretti, who goes back to 1973 to investigate the role of Italy and its ambassador in rescuing and granting asylum to a large number of people hunted with their lives in danger, like the position taken by Sweden .

Brazil contributed with an important documentary, Operation Condor (2007). The dictatorships of the 1960s and 1970s predominated not only in Brazil, but throughout the Southern Cone, where the infamous Operation Condor was in force. There we see how the police and the army of the countries in the region formed an agreement of mutual information and services, being responsible for attacks, torture, murders and disappearances. And all under the control of the United States. Directed by a Brazilian, the film dismantles the machine of repression piece by piece and reveals its monstrosities.

The twisting of the theme even produced a surprising result, focusing with a certain displacement on the derivations of the coup, whatever It's Fidel's fault (2006). Directed by Costa-Gavras' daughter, Julie Gavras, and starring a girl, it tells the story of the hardships of being the daughter of leftists, even in a country as civilized as France. It shows how difficult it is to understand oneself, amid the pains of growing up, in a home that hosts Les Barbudos, as the girl explains. We certainly see how the experience of being the daughter of militant artists is nothing banal, along with the notoriety and risks that such dedication brings.


And we close by talking about a notable Chilean filmmaker, almost unknown in Brazil, Raul Ruiz, who, when he passed away, left a collection of around 100 films, including features and shorts. His work is not easy to absorb. It leans towards the experimental and the avant-garde, the neo-baroque, the surrealist and the dreamlike, with hints of magical realism and its sources in popular culture. Raul Ruiz escaped the military's wrath and went into exile in France, where he continued a rich career. He became highly regarded by other filmmakers (“a filmmaker's filmmaker”). His films are difficult to obtain, and an Association of Friends, based in Paris, is making efforts to rescue and recover his works.

For us, and given the obstacles, it may be more practical to evaluate their talents in a collective film that is available on streaming. It is a sequence of three-minute episodes, in which Raul Ruiz is among his peers – the best and most advanced directors from around the world, with a total of 33 names. The episode he is responsible for, by title The gift, brings the remembrance of a blind man who was once an operator of the projection of the classic Casablanca in a lost village in the interior. The complete film, designed to celebrate 60 years of existence (and resistance) of the Cannes Festival, is extremely interesting, because its only theme is the love of cinema, and it demonstrates the bursts of creativity that such a theme is capable of provoking, especially in the imagination of great artists.

His contagious excitement, addressed to all moviegoers, has the title of To each his own cinema (in the original Chacun son cinema, 2007). Raul Ruiz's contribution, of supreme ingenuity and cutting humor, interrogates the limits of representation: a blind man projecting a film! And he proposes art not as a universal panacea, but rather as an ally in overcoming serious wounds.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of reading and rereading (Sesc\Ouro over Blue).

Originally published in the magazine Theory and debate.

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