Maven's Nest

Reel Life: Flick Pix

- courtesy of Icarus Films

Guzmán captures the energy and dynamics of Chile’s 2019 protests with electrifying street footage.

By Nora Lee Mandel

My Imaginary Country (Mi país imaginario)
Directed and Written by Patricio Guzmán
Produced by Renate Sachse
In Spanish with English subtitles
Chile/France. 83 min. Not Rated
Release by Icarus Films - opens September 23 in NYC at IFC Center, September 30 in Boston and Los Angeles, then across the U.S. and Canada.

(at 2022 Camden International Film Festival of Points North Institute)

Times may be changing in Chile – and Patricio Guzmán, the chronicler of its divisive political history and soul, now finds new hope from the youth, women, and indigenous activists.

For over 45 years, Guzmán has delved deeply into the most traumatic event of his life and of his home country of Chile in the 20th century: the 1973 military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, whose dictatorship endured 28 years. The brutal regime imprisoned him until he was able to join a million exiles, with least 3,000 people killed or missing, and some 35,000 people tortured in 800 secret prisons.

His cinema verité style Battle of Chile trilogy (1972-1979) documented Socialist President Salvador Allende’s government up to its U.S. government- assisted downfall. Thirty years later he made a trilogy of metaphorical and metaphysical documentary essays to puncture amnesia about this cruel politics by linking it to the country’s epochal nature, geography, and history: Nostalgia for the Light (2010), The Pearl Button (my choice as Best Documentary of 2015), and The Cordillera of Dreams (2019). (In New York, IFC Center will run repertory screenings of Guzmán’s earlier work during the run of this latest film.)

From spontaneous demonstrations that first broke out October 7, 2019, then exploded into a month of protests of increasing size and scope, Guzmán captures their energy and dynamics with electrifying street footage (in the style of his mentor Chris Marker in Paris 1968). High school students angry at transit fare increases were quickly joined by their parents and grandparents also angry about the government’s pension system, housing shortages, and general lack of public services. Drone views show the scale when 1.2 million people in the capital Santiago chant, pogo, and drum together rhythmically.

The right-wing government pushes back violently. Tear gas and water cannons are supplemented with beatings by riot police. President Sebastián Piñera whips up the enforcers by denouncing the protestors as “powerful enemies”. By the end of 2019, 29 people were killed, nearly 2,500 were injured, and 2,840 arrested. But each martyr, each blinded eye, and each arrest bring more protesters into the streets, uniting around the issue of inequality.

Guzmán flashes back in clips to the crowds who supported Allende in the streets, though their Marxist arguments now seem dated. He admires that this uprising comes from the grassroots, without direction from political parties, and without prominent leaders.

Interspersed are his interviews with a range of spirited protest participants – including indigenous, student, photographer, volunteer medic, doctor, political scientist, journalist- all women. Because they and Guzmán celebrate women as the central organizers. The powerful chant “The Rapist Is You (El Violador Eres Tú)” by La Tesis, a Chilean feminist art collective, linked abuse of women to patriarchal government systems. The theme, with hand motions and stomping feet, resonated around the world to go viral, though social media is not mentioned as an organizing tool.

My Imaginary Country has the inspiring feel of recent immersive documentaries about other revolutions: Jehane Noujaim’s The Square (Al Midan) (2013) among many on the Arab Spring in Egypt, and Oleksandr Techynskyi, Aleksey Solodunov & Dmitry Stoykov’s All Things Ablaze (2014) among several on Ukraine’s Maidan revolution.

Those euphoric experiences’ mixed success was a portend of reality. The victory film finale is the overwhelming vote for a diverse constitutional convention to draft a replacement to the Pinochet era ruling document. But that was deflated when the proposed revised charter was just rejected 62% to 38% in a referendum on September 4. Leftist President Gabriel Boric and Chile’s futures are inconclusive.

While the protests from both 1973 and 2019 are now searingly documented, Guzmán’s ideal country remains imaginary.


Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online. Her reviews are counted in the Rotten Tomatoes TomatoMeter:
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My reviews have appeared on: FF2 Media; Film-Forward; Lilith, FilmFestivalTraveler; and, Alliance of Women Film Journalists and for Jewish film festivals. Shorter versions of my older reviews are at IMDb's comments, where non-English-language films are listed by their native titles.

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