More than two decades after the fall of the democratic regime of Salvador Allende in Chile, expatriate filmmaker Patricio Guzman returns to his homeland to chart the echoes of what seems to have been a short-lived dream. What he discovers in “Chile, Obstinate Memory” relates less to the scars of the past than to a situation that verges on collective amnesia. The disquieting juxtaposition of a past so indelibly etched in the minds of one generation and a youthful population oblivious to history lends the film a haunting quality. Pic’s subtlety should earn it major accolades and chalk up considerable television sales and specialized theatrical play.
Guzman, whose seminal “The Battle of Chile” remains a potent document and cinema verite groundbreaker, returns not so much forgiven or forgotten as unknown. His initial intention is simply to interview the handful of survivors close to Allende — bodyguards, secretaries and other functionaries. It’s clear most have sought to bury the painful past, with its shattered freedoms and long list of friends, relatives and associates who went permanently “missing.” When he gathers together a group of insiders, the topic of politics is not a priority. Rather, the group collectively tries to piece together what happened and determine the fates of their colleagues. It’s an emotional reunion marked by feelings of camaraderie, sadness, regret and betrayal.
But even more powerful are helmer’s encounters with university students. What’s been taught and passed down to them is a homogenized version of the Allende era. They are shocked and devastated when he shows them “The Battle of Chile” — completed in exile and banned in Chile.
Guzman leaves us to draw our own conclusions, and that’s finally the most unsettling aspect of his new docu. One hopes the tragedy of the past is not repeated and that those who have not sentimentalized history will prevail.