Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2022 8:07 am 
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"From turnstiles to constitution": the recent political rebirth of Chile

The well-known maker of this handsome and optimistic documentary made his first film fifty years ago, The First Year, celebrating the first few months of the presidency of Salvador Allende. We know how that ended: the US-backed coup staged September 11, 1973 that overthrew the democratically elected socialist leader of a liberal democracy turned into a long-lived dictatorship that put this filmmaker in prison. Now he comes to celebrate another moment of national hope. Let's hope this time the democracy lingers.

It all began in October 2019 when the government raised the subway fare thirty pesos. The filmmaker, who narrates, says he never imagined this seemingly minor event would be "the spark that ignites the country." The reaction, known as the Estallido Social, the "social outburst" (see Wikipedia "2019-2020 Chilean Protests"), mainly took place between October 2019 and`March 2020. The government response was relentless but so were the protests. The Estallido Social began with major acts of vandalism. These were against not only the subway system, leading it to be shut down and causing permanent damage to some eighty stations, but also including destructive attacks on businesses and banks.

Many things, like the violence against citizens vented through using the military to quell demonstrations, were a legacy of Augusto Pinochet's 1973–1990 Military dictatorship of Chile Wikipedia) - established with the coup against Salvador Allende backed by the US staged September 11, 1973 - though ostensibly that ended forty years ago. The Social Outburst meant huge demonstrations - the largest in the country's history by far - which we see here. They continued, in spite of the violent police and military repression, which we also see and hear about from witnesses, and which included 400 blindings, some mutilations.

The filmmaker saw another revolution, the one in 1973, overturned ty the US coup Sept. 11 with the removal of Salvador Allende. The recent repression reminds the filmmaker of the dictatorship. The failed Allende revolution was accomplished by an alliance of political parties and this new movement is suspicious of parties. It is Grassroots in nature and liked to hold 'Open Councils" to discuss issues, and sought seeking to establish a constituent assembly. A referendum voted 80% for such an assembly. Many additional issues were raised. The demonstrations were for many causes. They know they knew they needed a new constitution, that they had a "bad" one.

They held big public meetings and discussions. The film shows a series of demonstrators or observers all women, starting with one who wears a mask and helmet of flowers. The film in fact makes it seem that this movement has consisted mainly of women, at least as Guzman shows it. Were man not willing to come on camera? Anyway, the women's element is striking. A song, or chant, composed by four women ends with "The rapist is you." It rejects the male claim that women provoke rape. "The oppressive state is a macho rapist!" the chant goes on.

Evidently the goal of a constituent assembly was achieved, and it now meets in the senate hall Pinochet closed down in 1973, the slogan "de los torniquetes a la constitution" arose, "from the turnstiles to the constitution." And this new constitution is the first one perhaps in history to be written in true equality of the sexes with equal participation of women, who also figure prominently in the new government, figured prominently in the demonstrations of the Estallido Social, and are seen to dominate throughout this film.

Images of public battle between citizens revolting in the street and military repression are surprisingly beautiful at times. There has also been an outpouring of "creativity" the filmmaker records, murals and such.

Guzmean's film is rousing and beautiful, but nitty gritty details of this great political rebirth in Chile may feel missing to finicky viewers. How did the repression end? Has it ended? What has become of the element of repression? Isn't it waiting to return? A professional chess player - female, of course - is called upon to comment on events, on how all this differs from or resembles a chess game. She warns that a danger is that arousal of patriotism could lead to a rise of conservatism.

There are details mentioned that seem to be left dangling. It's mentioned that poverty is such that kids give up high school to gather refuse to help their destitute parents or grand parents. Also mentioned that 73% of children are born out of wedlock - an extraordinary statistic. We do not know how problems like this will be solved. It's more or less clear how "turnstiles" led to the great revolt, and why: spontaneously, and due to decades of exploitation by government favorites. But the gradual process that led from the demonstrations to the votes and the new government isn't made clear here.

Due to Guzmán's lack of detail, I confess I remained skeptical, as I watched, about the optimism of his report on this new Chile, this "imaginary country" that he imagines coming into being - until I saw Gabriel Boric, the new leader of the country, a leftist, from the far south, giving his inaugural speech and declaring that he is thirty-five years old. The leader of a country who is thirty-five years old! Now that is a revolution.

My Imaginary Country/Mi país imaginario 83 mins., debuted at Cannes May 20, 2022; also Jerusalem July, Toronto Sept. US release Sept.23, 2022 (France Sept. 26). Metacritic rating 86%. A NYTimes Critic's Pick.

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