Memories of a better life for Chile
Patricio Guzmán has spent almost half a century documenting Chilean society before, during and post-Pinochet, despite having fled the country with his family in 1973 when the military overthrew President Salvador Allende. The Cordillera of Dreams is the concluding part of a trilogy that began with Nostalgia for the Light searching the Atacama desert, continued onto The Pearl Burton and Chile’s maritime past, and now poignantly explores the nation’s cultural link to the Andes that dominate so much of the geography .
More specifically, Guzmán focusses on the range of mountains close to Santiago, his birth place and centre of the political uprising that saw General Pinochet seize power in the early ’70s. The connection between the now modern city and the imposing natural structures may not seem apparent at first, but Guzmán slowly implicates them as silent witnesses who have absorbed the countless atrocities that have left an indelible mark on generations of Chilean people.
The poeticism of Guzmán’s previous two films is less prominent this time, instead pursuing a more direct and personal narrative around a city he hasn’t lived in for decades but still calls home. It allows him to revisit the now derelict building he was raised in that he fondly labels the “ruins of my childhood”. There is warmth and despair felt in equal measure as the memories of the brutal Pinochet regime lingers on, not helped by the current government’s refusal to admit to the mass murders and disappearances that decimated so many families.
In-between a select few talking heads, Guzmán delivers a melancholic narration and revisits the moment Pinochet took power in the country and how he, along with thousands of other men, were rounded up and kept prisoner in the national football stadium. As with the previous two films there are some stunning aerial vistas, sharply filtered through cinematographer Samuel Lahu’s lens, many of which are captured via drones swooping through the clouds above Santiago and the expansive cordillera surrounding the city. A local sculptor says that the mountains take up as much as 80% of Chile’s territory and the deeper you explore the caverns and valleys, the further back in time you travel.
Aside from the singers and writers Guzmán invites to reflect on the importance of the Andes to those who live in the shadow of the mountains, he devotes a considerable amount of time in the second half of the film to fellow Chilean documentarian, Pablo Salas. Since the early ’80s Salas has been recording and cataloguing the public demonstrations and brutal beatings handed out by the military during what Guzmán calls “the lost years”. Somehow he has been able to continue filming without censor and it means, despite the government denials, his archive has become a treasure trove that provides concrete proof that cannot be denied or misinterpreted.
As well as reflecting on Chile’s past Guzmán ponders the present and future. He believes the implementation of the First Chicago Method financial model under Pinochet saw the military “sell the country” to overseas investors, turning it into a neoliberal haven that continues to benefit the wealthy almost 30 years after the regime was overthrown. He even steps foot inside Pinochet’s now abandoned headquarters that is filled with the ghosts of those who carried out his orders. They continue to linger and haunt the country to this day and Guzmán laments that the exorcising of those spirits barely seems to have begun.
The Cordillera of Dreams plays at the London Film Festival.
You can read more of our LFF coverage here.
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