Friday, August 10, 2012

Macarena Aguiló's THE CHILEAN BUILDING probes Pinochet's Chile from a new angle

After everything we've seen concerning the last half-century of Chilean history, including the hope and promise of the democratically elected Allende government, its betrayal from within and without (the disgusting and illegal efforts of Nixon and Kissinger) and the horror of the subsequent Pinochet dictatorship -- all this would take in countless documentaries, docudramas, poignant philosophical musings and narrative films -- nothing I have witnessed has had quite the same odd impact as the surprisingly quiet new documentary, THE CHILEAN BUILDING, opening this coming Monday at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem.

If your first thoughts regarding the title of this doc run to the likes of, "Oh, that must be the building in which left-leaning citizens were tortured" (as did mine), forget it. The titular building can be found in Cuba, and it was the final home, after trekking across Europe, for more than 60 Chilean children whose parents, back home in Chile, were fighting against the Pinochet regime. Consequently any living relatives of these "freedom fighters" were possible fodder for kidnap, torture and murder by the dictatorship. Children were especially vulnerable. In fact, the film's director, Macarena Aguiló (shown above) was herself kidnapped as a child -- a ploy by the dictatorship to get at her father, who was then in hiding.

This "plan," which came to be known as Project Home included some 20 Chilean adults who supervised the more than 60 children, including Ms Aguiló -- whose mothers and fathers were members of the leftist organization Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR), some of whom were never seen again -- through their childhood and/or adolescent years to adulthood. TrustMovies never realized that such a program existed, but it makes perfect sense in terms of safety for the children, while freeing the parents to do whatever they had to, without the additional fear for their offspring.

The program began in Europe, with France and Belgium especially helpful (we got a taste of the French allegiance in Blame It on Fidel), and then moved on to Cuba, where that building of the title came to be the home for the kids. The documentary itself is very sophisticated, both in the way it uses so many different elements to tell its story -- home movies, interviews, animation (lovely simple hand-drawn stuff by Nestor Perez), drawings, maps -- and the viewpoints it encompasses: that of the filmmaker herself, who is a part of this Project Home; of the parents lost to their children in one way or another, alive and fighting or dead and gone; and the surro-gate parents. Most interesting and moving is the fact that Aguiló lets us see the children and the parents -- both then and now.

To hear the older adults speaking of the revolution and what it meant to them is sad because, of course, little has happened in the forty years since. The idea -- the dream -- of equality lingers still. Aguiló talks to her adoptive dad and shows us her "three social siblings" in The Chilean House. One man talks of his mother back then: "She had chosen a clear and concise action, and I could not go with her." This sort of thing makes one grow up fast.

The film is full of funny moments, too. In Cuba, the women envied the way the Chilean men worked around the house doing the chores. "Our men would never do that. We were jealous!" The movie also gives us a sense of what communal life was all about. MIR, we are told, was fond of Project Home, but also could be critical: Kids could never correct adults, it seems, even when the kids were right. Eventually, the Project Home children found respite in the La Beca school, "where the adults understood us."

We learn about the "fake" lives that the real parents were living in Chile, with fake names, fake friends, fake everything. "Yet often they had real feelings, even for their "fake" friends," we are told. The film and its participants try not to allow emotions or tears to cloud up the commentary, but every so often feelings escape, and the film becomes all the more moving for the individuals' attempts to block this. One of the parents explains, "Reality proved more stubborn that we had predicted, and we saw that things were not turning out as we wished."  A father who had abandoned his children tells us, "I am not a part of the new life they built, and I don't want to be. That's the price of protecting a country, and of fighting a dictatorship."

What this movie finally gets at, and about as strongly and precisely as I have seen, is the price we all must finally pay for past actions. As another young woman explains it, "What these families are experiencing is the need not to risk damaging all that they have built up -- their life, which is dangling by a very narrow thread -- by talking about the past." And yet, as the filmmaker and her documentary tell us at the close: "Emptiness is a path that is only filled when you walk it."
The Chilean Building, from Magic Lantern, is a movie worth experiencing. Filmed in Chile, Cuba, France and Belgium, the documentary, lasting 96 minutes, will open for a week's run at the Maysles Cinema, beginning this Monday August 13  through Sunday, August 19, showing nightly at 7:30pm. Click here for directions.

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