Ever since backpacking around South America several years ago I have developed a curiosity for Latin American cinema - both as a way of seeing the people and landscape portrayed, and also to know more about the culture. It’s been difficult to source films from the region - but those that have garnered enough international interest to get distribution have general been well worth watching.
Now that I am living in Chile my focus has turned to the homegrown cinema. Sadly, film production virtually ceased completely during the 16 years of Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1989), but more recently the industry has shown a lot of promise.
I’ve set up this page on this blog to keep track of any such films I manage to watch.
Any recommendations are welcome!
A simple reflection on a provincial Chilean peasant family and their way of life which is at odds with the modernisation of society. It’s a well made family drama with solid performances from what appears to be an amateur cast.
La Nana (The Maid) 2009
Set in modern day Chile, we follow the daily life a maid (Raquel) who has served with the same family for 23 years. This a wonderful character study which mixes some sharp black comedy with flashes of humanity and genuine compassion. This is more than a portrayal of class differences, as the story plays out with perfect tone, the viewer is reluctantly sucked into Raquel’s life and her search for light through the darkness.
La vida de los peces (The Life of Fish) 2010
Out of Chile comes the best relationship film I’ve seen in a very long time. A man returns home to the friends of his youth after ten years of living overseas as a travel writer. Over the course of a single night the emotions of the past are brought to the surface with painful realism. The acting is superb and convincing, but the writing is where this film shines - it’s sublime and mature, giving the viewer only what they need and holding back on the histrionics. Winner of the Goya for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film.
I’ve seen my share of failed ‘coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of [insert war/political struggle]’ films, so it’s refreshing when you see it done well. This is a sincere effort to draw attention to Chile’s bloody history through the eyes of two children. It may even be the best film to come out of Chile. The performances, the historical realism, and the human aspect are spot on.
Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light) 2010
A remarkable documentary from Chile which juxtaposes three different threads of the country’s history - pre-Columbian shepherds, the struggle of people exposing the brutality of the Pinochet regime, and astronomy in the Atacama desert. Each of the stories has a haunting tone and each presented with the kind of passion for the material and search for truth you’ll find in a Herzog or Errol Morris documentary.
In addition, the interwoven stories are beautifully shot by Patricio Guzmán, who also also directed the excellent Allende documentary from 2004.
Post Mortem 2010
Set during the last days of Salvador Allende’s presidency, the director and star of Tony Manero once again team up to produce another disturbing dramatic depiction of Chile’s dark history. The film starkly depicts the violence of the Pinochet coup by way of a stone faced civil servant who transcribes autopsies. Director Pablo Larrin maintains this story arose from his fascination with the autopsy of Allende and his own desire to explore the transformation of Chile during this period.
Salvador Allende 2004
This was my first real insight into Allende, who most would know as the Chilean leader who was overthrown by the military coup in 1973 that would lead to Pinochet taking control of the country. It’s a great document of this period in history, made even more special through interviews with those who knew him. Though despite the many anecdotes I never felt I got a true sense of the man at a personal level - he appeared to me to be unlikable, detached, and deeply flawed. While the film is clearly aiming to construct a sympathetic portrait, the interview segments with Edward Korry, the former U.S. ambassador to Chile are a blunt reality-check on how the West generally regarded (despised) Allende.
Sexo con Amor (Sex With Love) 2003
Sex and the City, Chilean style? A young schoolteacher Luisa is starting a debate on the introduction of sex education into her classes and this in-turn causes reflection amongst the parents of the young students. I found it interesting to see the cultural differences and perceptions - particularly as much of the subject matter that is exposed and explored is still classified as taboo in Chile. Fun story but never rises above the ordinary.
Tony Manero 2008
Set in 1978 Chile, during Pinochet’s rule, we follow an obsessed fan of John Travolta’s character in “Saturday Night Fever as he works towards competing in a tacky TV talent contest. It sounds like the makings of a parody except it’s deadly serious and at times shockingly violent as things turn psychotic. It’s deeply unsettling, yet fascinating, character study which cleverly draws parallels with the politics in Chile of the time.
Established Chilean director Andrés Wood takes on the subject of one of Chile’s most loved and respected artists and folklorists, Violeta Parra, and delivers the country’s best film since his powerful 2004 historic epic, Machuca. It’s beautifully made with unsettling honesty. You can never tell the complete story with a film like this, and Wood has instead opted to structure the film around a candid TV interview Parra gave in 1962. Though it is told in non-linear style, vignettes of her life are interwoven with her music and bound together using recurring motifs. It works and the result was been given the nod as Chile’s official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film - if successful, it will be their first nomination in the award’s history.
For more information about Chilean cinema I found this Amazon list page which shows availability of some films.