I Never Climbed the Provincia (2019) **** FID Marseilles 2019

July 15th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Ignacio Agüero; Documentary; Chile 2019, 89 min.

Chilean director Ignacio Agüero, whose I Never Climbed the Provincia has won the 30th edition of the Film Festival Marseilles 2019 (FID), has been a life-long chronicler of his homeland since 1977. He was active even under the Pinochet dictatorship with No Olvidar, and contributed to the campaign in 1988, which saw Pinochet removed. Agüero remained in the country to document the horrors of the Pinochet years. He is also an actor, starring in two films by the late Raúl Ruiz, Dias de Campo and La recta Provincia. 

The film starts with an admission: he has never actually climbed Mount Provincia, which towers over Santiago from a distance. All the same, he is very much at home in the Santiago neighbourhood, which has seen drastic changes in the last two decades. Explores the visible and invisible, daily life and the undercurrent of the past,  Agüero interviews people on the street, digging, like an archaeologist for signs of the past. His feature documentaries have ben compared to the work of Alain Cavalier.

Agüero explores the roads with repeated camera movements: lateral views and short distances, often with handheld cameras, returning always to the central point of the intersection: the Cuban restaurant, the mini-market. Sometimes the camera passes over the roofs of the city from where he watched the military planes attacking the Presidential Palace La Moneda in 1973. And there is footage of Vicariate of Solidarity, the organisation in opposition to Pinochet, lead by Archbishop Raúl Silva Henriquez. 

A seasoned documentarian, he has dealt with the demolition of historical neighbourhoods before: GAM (2011) tells the story of the Cultural Centre Gabriela Mistral, a place of social and cultural history of the city. But this time around shows the urban transformation, the new buildings erected, the small shops and activity centres of the past, who have all been replaced by fashionable places. The time-honoured bakeries and pastry shops, the shoemaker, the newspaper vendor, who sold his newspapers from a street kiosk. Then there were the arcade games and pinball machines – meeting places of a close knit neighbourhood. There are many bizarre characters in this neighbourhood: Andrej, who is Cuban, but earned his name, because his country was so close to the USSR. Germans run the laundry, and there is ‘Peter O’Toole’, named after the hero of the David Lean’s feature Lawrence of Arabia,, because of his dignity and elegance. 

Only a few times the filmmaker ventures out from the district of the Nunca subi Provincia; he shows his house as a boat at sea, and a scene with Gregory Peck as Ahab in John Huston’s Moby Dick. And there are schoolchildren, watching Chaplin in the Emigrant, representing hope.

The film is a chronicle of the past, shades of Italian neo-realism. Whilst Agüero writes handwritten letters (for the first time in years), describing his strategy, we are witness to a change, which is is documented not so much with nostalgia and melancholy, but as a report of witnesses, who are keeping the past alive. AS


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