Sunday, March 13, 2011

DVDebut: Patricio Guzmán returns yet again to SALVADOR ALLENDE

For Chileans of a certain age and leftist political leanings, Salvador Allende is the touchstone and always will be, so long as those people live. Likewise for right-leaning Chileans, Augusto Pinochet is the revered model. The latter's overthrow of Allende's democratically elected government (by the American-backed Chilean military) and the 15-year dictatorship that followed, along with the many missing and murdered dissidents, will remain the singular event/time period of all these lives -- no matter that many of Chile's young people today want to cry "Get over it!" There is no getting over it until all those who lived through these decades lave been laid to rest. For Chile, this time frame occupies a place similar to the disappeared in Argentina or, for the elders of Spain, their Civil War.

The Chilean/
Spanish writer, teacher and filmmaker Patricio Guzmán (shown at left) has amassed quite a body of work involving the Allende/
Pinochet time period. Obsessed (but in a useful manner) is not too strong a word, I think, to describe his connection to this era. His massive, three-part docu-mentary/history The Battle of Chile, together with Chile, Obstinate Memory and The Pinochet Case are probably his best-known films in this country. (The filmmaker's newest work, the award-winning Nostaligia for the Light, opens this coming Friday at IFC Center in New York. I'll have more to say about it later this week.)

About Guzmán's Salvadore Allende, for those not so much informed about this Chileans leader, the documentary should prove a good place to begin. Much shorter (100 minutes) than the four-and one-half-hour-long Battle of Chile, Guzmán still uses a number of shots and scenes from that film in his newer documentary.  Some of these I was thrilled to see again (that indelible sequence of the young man running through the streets, pulling the cart!); others, because I was already aware of them and knew the background, seemed more like filler.

What the documentary offers that no one interested in politics and history will want to pass up is the interview with former U.S. Ambassador Edward Korry that Guzmán weaves through the movie. This give-and-take provides what can only be called an insider's account of the absolute insistence of President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger that Allende and his democratic regime be stopped. Initially it seems that Korry might be sorry for the way things turned out ("things" that include Pinochet's reign of terror), but, no. The ex-ambasssador proves utterly unrepentant about the CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew the Chilean government -- using the old fear-of-Russian-Communism as the usual excuse. He even claims that his superiors kept the information about the coup from him at the time.

The other important reason to view this film is the debate Guzmán gives us between former militants from different political parties, as they argue over how and why Allende failed to defend the government in the period leading up to the coup by arming and mobilizing a people's militia as a counterforce to the military -- which was by then firmly controlled by forces who opposed Allende. This is probably the firmest argument for why the regime collapsed, but Guzmán has already made it clear that Allende wanted his government -- which had been democratically elected rather than taking the country by force, as did the Russians in 1917 and Castro in 1950s Cuba -- to above all remain democratic rather than becoming an armed force. This was not possible given the sleazy dealings of the Cuban right, together with those of the USA, and Allende paid for his miscalculation with his own life and those of many of his countrymen.

But would an armed militia -- which I can't imagine would not have led to a civil war, undoubtedly won by Pinochet's forces (supported, of course, by the USA) -- have resulted in any less suffering and death?  What all this says about the possibility of genuine democratic social change without accompanying armed force is not very positive or promising. Is it?

Salvadore Allende, from Icarus Films Home Video, is available for sale and rent this Tuesday, March 15. In English, French and Spanish, with English Subtitles, the DVD Bonus Features include a stills gallery by Chilean photographer Patricio Guzmán Campos, featuring 22 photos of Chile in the 1960s and 1970s and a theatrical trailer for Guzmán's latest film, Nostalgia for the Light.

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