by Patricio Guzmán, Director
First Run / Icarus Films, Brooklyn NY,
DVD, 100 mins.
Sales, $ 440; rental/VHS, $150
Distributors website: http://www.frif.com.
Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University
To residents of the United States, September
11 is remembered as the date in 2001 when
Al Qaida's airplane hijackers attacked
the World Trade towers and Pentagon. To
Chileans, it was the day in 1973 when
the Chilean military bombed and fired
upon on La Moneda, the seat of national
government in the capital city of Santiago.
The CIA-sponsored military coup ousted
the Popular Unity government, assassinated
its leader Salvador Allende, and began
several decades of brutal repression under
General Augusto Pinochet. It arrested,
tortured and "disappeared" thousands of
students and intellectuals, and sent many
others in exile out of Chile. In 2003,
30 years after the coup, filmmaker Patricio
Guzmán returned home to make this
While he recalls how for him, the Allende
era "incarnated the utopia of a just and
free world", Guzmán explores whether
Allende was a patriot orin
US President Nixon's phrasea
"son of a bitch". Some veterans of the
Allende's own Popular Unity party blame
him for failure to arm the populace against
the army. The film contains biographical
material on Allende, documentary footage
that includes what was smuggled out of
the country by Guzmán and used
in his "Battle of Chile", plus chapters
on right-wing opposition tactics, Allende's
communication with Fidel Castro and "Chilean
Silence on Allende Today". The filmmaker
gives Edward Korry, former U.S. Ambassador
to Chile, a chance to tell his side of
Early in this film Guzmán's hand
chips away at encrusted layers of a wall,
under which artistic paint can be glimpsed.
Muralist Mono Gonzales refused exile and
stayed to paint defiant neighborhood public
walls with the Brigada Ramon Parra; today
he recalls "The people took over the walls,
like the Right detains the Media." We
see Gonzales carefully unroll cracked
and torn drawings by Roberto Matta, and
elsewhere Guzmán pores over evocative
sepia moldy, water-damaged family photographs.
José Balmes draws La Moneda, rubbing
and obscuring it as if with cannon fire
or the fog of memory. Ema Melig paints
huge fictional maps, in which Guzmán
sees an allegory of the exile's Chile
as "drifting islands that never connect."
This reviewer recalls an intellectual
named Gasmán, former faculty at
Chile's Catholic University, who lived
in a California apartment complex in the
1980s, who might concur.
The 1973 coup had an international effect
upon the arts. The Brigada Letelier, sons
of the Chilean ambassador to the US who
was assassinated in Washington DC in 1976,
painted community murals in San Francisco
in the abstracted style developed by the
late-night art activists of Santiago.
The novelist José Donoso lived
in Spain and taught several semesters
in the US at Dartmouth College and the
University of Iowa, while producing the
surreal Obscene Bird of Night,
politically allegorical House in the
Country, and realistic Curfew.
Guzmán brings us political surrealism
when Gonzalo Milan reads a poem about
time flowing in reverse to undo the coup
against Allende, with planes flying backwards
and bullets returning into the barrels
of guns; the film ends with Milan's final
word "venceremos" (we will win).
The decisive September 11 in the US, 28
years after Chile's was the excuse for
my own nation to fall into misguided military
adventure under a leader scornful of our
Constitution, to resultas
in Chilein constriction of
freedom, great suffering, and needless
loss of life. Perhaps Chile, the US, Germany,
the UK and every nation are equally at
risk of backsliding away from liberty
and justice without constant citizen vigilance.
Guzmán's film "Salvador Allende"
eloquently reminds us of that fact, and
should be shown widely.