Posts Tagged ‘Chilean cinema’

White on White (2019)

Dir/Wri. Théo Court.   Spain/Chile/France/Germany. Drama. 1oo’.

South America’s Tierra del Fuego is the setting for this weirdly compelling drama telling an equally unsettling story against the background of colonialist brutality in late 19th century Chile.

Anchored by a magnetic performance from one of Chile’s leading acting talents Alfredo Castro (Rojo) this is an enigmatic film with suitably ambiguous characters. Castro plays Pedro, a photographer hired by a wealthy landowner to record his impending nuptials. But what starts as a seemingly straightforward gig soon develops into something sinister and otherworld as he finds himself drawn into a nightmarish scenario from which escape seems increasingly unlikely.

In his follow-up to Ocaso Théo Court takes us to the brink with a slow-burning mystery that chases its tale to the point of bewilderment, José Alayón’s striking widescreen cinematography capture the bleak snow-swept landscapes forming a chilling backdrop to this disquieting story  in the remotest corner of the Earth.

After painstakingly setting up his camera to photograph the timid pre-teen bride Sara (Ether Vega) in a series of alluring poses that hint at salaciousness. Pedro is then forced to languish in an isolated cabin awaiting further instructions from Mr Porter, an increasingly evasive employe, who never actually appears. The contrast between this vast wilderness and the claustrophobic interiors and oppressive characters is the crux of this fascinating film which keeps us in suspense until a shocking finale.

Co-scripting with Samuel M. Delgado, Court vaguely hints at arthouse paedophilia in his characterisation of Pedro, a man who has possibly overstepped the mark in his growing obsession for an innocent bride. You could also say he was just an artist keen to do his best in fulfilling his creative brief, but there’s something unsavoury about it all.

White on White makes an uncomfortable watch during these slightly scabrous portrait scenes. Things become even more questionable when Pedro persuades Sara’s governess Aurora (Lola Rubio) to bring the girl for another photo session at dawn. And what follows is worse. From being a respectable outsider, Pedro gradually becomes trapped in this dystopian community of ranchers who have been tasked by the absentee landowner to build an encampment and enslave the Indigenous Selkham people. Pedro eventually finds himself engaged in a more sinister commission, that of immortalising their massacres for posterity at this ‘important time in history’, as Porter describes it.

Although the Selkham people are naturally horrified, Mr Porter believes his civilising influence is somehow an act of heroism. And the final scene contrasts the absurdity of Pedro’s obsession with the compositing his shot with the vile nature of his subject matter. White on White shares a common vein with Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, and there are also echoes of Juaja here in the surreal and scary backwater that refuses to yield its exotic power to the misguided marauders in its midst. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 30 JUNE 2021 | ORIZZONTI PRIZE Winner BEST DIRECTOR | FIPRESCI PRIZE 2019

 

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

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

Grand Prix WINNER | FID MARSEILLE 2019

El Hombre del Futuro (2019) *** Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Felipe Rios Fuente; Cast: Antonia Giesen, Jose Soza, Maria Alche, Roberto Farias; Chile 2019, 96 min.

Director/co-writer Felipe Rios Fuente’s debut feature is beautiful to look at, but based on a rather misplaced ideology. Somehow his melancholic defence of absent fathers, caught up in their so-called independence, sticks a the throat: even in Chile, country of machismo, a little more honesty would be welcome.

We meet Elena (Giesen) at high school in Cochrane, north Chile, were she discusses her future with a friend. Not much of an academic Elena has set her heart on professional boxing. Sadly this becomes a pipe dream when she heads down south to a match in the wilderness of Patagonia. Meanwhile her biological father Michelsen (Soza), whom she has not seen since her childhood, is coming to the end of his life. He seems resigned to his fate setting off on his final trip taking sheep to Patagonia and on the way picks up a young hitchhiker, Maxi (Alche). At the same time Cuatro Dedos (Farias) picks up Elena. ‘Four Fingers’ is a younger version of Michelsen, he knows that Elena is Michelsen’s daughter, whom he holds in near mythical regard. Somehow, via the hauler’s radio system, Elena sends a message to her father. He arrives in time to see her beaten up in the ring by Patagona, a much heavier woman, who is supported by the local crowd. Elena and Michelsen now travel together, deliver the sheep, and try to come to terms with their relationship. Michelsen insists he never gave up being Elena’s father, but she reminds him he never knew her at all. Fuente insists on a reconciliation, but his pleas are hollow.

The beauty of the wilderness of Patagonia is captured on spectacular widescreen images by DoP Eduardo Bunster. Fuente’s opaque choice of the title is as superfluous as his insistence that old men should be forgiven for leaving their families. Four Finger and his hero Michelsen want their freedom and independence to roam the country, but leave the responsibility of childcare to the abandoned wives. They might talk about love for those left behind, but the words are empty. Elena’s dislocation is a result of her father’s negligence, and however hard Fuente tries to romanticise their relationship, his choice of independence has certainly created her emotional insecurity. AS

KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | IN COMPETITION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EAST OF WEST COMPETITION | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Cordillera of Dreams (2019)

Dir: Patricio Guzman | DoP: Samuel Lahu | Chile, 97′

Patricio Guzman completes the trilogy on his native Chile with this follow-up to The Pearl Button (2015) and Nostalgia for the Light ((2010).

Since moving to Paris over 40 years ago, well-known documentarian Patricio Guzman admits to feeling an outsider on returning to the country of his birth. This latest Cordillera de los Suenos is probably the most politically engaged of the trio with echoes of his seminal work The Battle of Chile (1975-79), but also possibly the least engaging. The mournful reminiscence touches on the relationship between Chile’s history and the natural world but the lively interviews with sculptors and artists whose work focuses on the Andes, soon give way to video footage of the brutal Pinochet years recorded by the prolific photographer Pablo Sala who first began his work in the 1980s and has been filming public life in Chile ever since.

The Cordillera of Dreams is certainly a sad reflective film and once again enjoys Guzman’s serene and measured narration which muses on the links between the country’s extraordinary geography and the human tragedy that Chileans experienced since the fateful coup on 11 September 1973, when Guzman left the country and moved to France. He now dreams of returning to his homeland and restoring the dilapidated house where he grew up in Santiago.

“It doesn’t even smell the same” says Guzman of his beloved country tucked away behind the Andes, describing it as a “chest full of poetic dreams”. Like most of the world, Chile has now moved into the 21st century and now enjoys a stable and prosperous economy that welcomes foreign investment. Samuel Lahu’s extraordinary overhead shots of Santiago are magnificent; fuzzy clouds scudding by to reveal the grid pattern of a white city walled by huge snowy mountains — the Andes – stretching far away to the East. But still the director yearns for the past and his happy childhood – like most of us. Sadly the future has arrived in Chile without him. Capitalism has brought prosperity but on one can bring back the home he once known.

We see overhead footage of the ‘ghost trains’ silently transporting Chile’s wealth of copper to the ports to be transported abroad. These privately owned mines are nowhere to be scene and no public roads have access to them. Along with wine, this precious national resource is one of Chile main exports. The Pearl Button was fascinating in that it raised awareness of the object that came originally from the shirt of a political victim, and was discovered years later at the bottom of the sea. But this film makes no such amazing discoveries, nor does it ask new questions.

We already know that Pinochet was a genocidal maniac who held the country in his thrall from his imposing tower block in Santiago – and we get a tour of the empty building echoing with the ghosts of corrupt generals. And there is ample footage of public beatings and water cannon roving the streets during his bloody regime, thanks to Pablo Salas. In his precious trove of videos, he even shows us footage of the column of men, (between 15 and 65 who were removed from their homes), filing off in a large line into the football stadium, that same ground that bore witness years earlier to Chile’s triumph in the World Cup.

But while Guzman fled abroad to the peace and prosperity of France, Pablo Salas remained to face the music, however funereal it was. So perhaps Guzman feels twinges of guilt for abandoning his homeland, and senses that Chile has possibly turned her back on him for disloyalty. Salas, now in his late fifties, is an sympathetic man who is philosophical about his country, swearing he could never leave. In his studio surrounded by boxes and boxes of video material, he is the one who has made it “impossible to erase history” and for that Guzman is grateful. MT

GOLDEN EYE DOCUMENTARY PRIZE Cannes 2019 | ON RELEASE 7 OCTOBER 2022

 

 

 

Los Reyes (2018) **** IDFA 2018 | Special Jury Award 2018

Dir: Ivan Osnovikoff, Bettina Perut | 88′ | Doc Chile 2018

Santiago streetlife plays out poignantly through a pair of canny canine caretakers in this wry and filmic foray to the capital’s largest skatepark.

LOS REYES have got it sussed. A black Labrador (Chola) and a Collie Cross (Football) are literally kings of all they survey. With shady trees and water sprinklers to cool the midday heat, they can play away from traffic in this public playground they consider their own. There’s always an odd ball or two to keep them amused, But don’t welcome motorbikes or the rubbish cart, and howl at the fire engine.

Limpidly shot on the widescreen and in intimate often minute close-up, there’s lightness of touch to this graceful and upbeat slice of city life: every twitch of a tail, every tweak of the cheek signals the dogs’ reaction to the human activities nearby. Meanwhile random male conversation is overheard from passers by. Some of it quite startling. But the kids can rest assured that their macho confessions are safe with these trusty tenants of the capital’s microcosm. On wet days they have a contingency plan – a kennel retreat by the rubbish bins. But it’s not all easygoing between the two of them. When Chola tries to hump a discarded old duvet, Football goes mad.

The film derives its subtle humour from the banal disdain of the dogs’ expressions as they tolerate the trivial and sometimes bawdy adolescent banter, shrugging off the intrusion of wildlife and a couple of donkeys who dare to cross their territory. But when uncertainty looms for the future of this canine couple, some welcome female chitchat lightens the mood. Just like humans, dogs don’t need to talk to communicate with their loved ones, but even in Santiago de Chile’s paradise park, every dog has its day. MT

WINNER | IDFA Special Jury Award for Feature-Length Documentary | 2018

 

 

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