Review: ‘Salvador Allende’

Although a carefully researched and put together documentary on the life, death and legacy of the late Chilean president, "Salvador Allende" fails to ignite. Documentarist Patricio Guzman returns to what is perhaps too familiar ground without new insights. As dramatic as the story is, pic loses auds with its detailed reminiscences which never build.

Although a carefully researched and put together documentary on the life, death and legacy of the late Chilean president, “Salvador Allende” fails to ignite. Documentarist Patricio Guzman is best known for his pioneering “The Battle of Chile I, II, III” made in the years immediately after Allende’s death during Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 coup d’etat. Here he returns to what is perhaps too familiar ground without new insights. As dramatic as the story is, pic loses auds with its excessively detailed first-hand reminiscences which never build to an emotional pitch. This faithful historical record will be primarily of local interest.

The heart of the film is its passionate insistence on Allende’s utopian ideas and his belief that socialism could be achieved in a Latin American country through democratic means, without resorting to violence. After skimming over his childhood, education and early political career, Guzman explores the political forces at work at the time. Most interesting is the decisive role that then-President Richard Nixon and the U.S. played, first in funneling millions of dollars into a campaign to keep Allende from becoming president, and then in organizing Pinochet’s military coup, ushering in a terrifying 17-year dictatorship.

Former U.S. ambassador Edward Korry, now retired, speaks openly about Nixon’s burning desire to crush Allende, a friend of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and an outspoken opponent of the power wielded by multi-national corporations.

One thing the film is successful in showing is the vast popular support Allende enjoyed. Keeping his electoral promise to nationalize factories, banks and big businesses, he energized the working class masses and earned their fierce loyalty, which is visible at massive rallies.

The army’s bombing of the presidential palace La Moneda on Sept. 11, 1973 — where Allende committed suicide after making a final, calm appeal for democracy — ended three years of hope.

End of film shows how, without explaining why, a veil of silence has fallen over Allende’s tragic end.

Salvador Allende

Non-Competing / Chile-France-Belgium-Germany-Spain-Mexico

Production

A JBA Production (France)/Les Films de la Passerelle (Belgium)/CV Produktions (Germany)/Mediapro (Spain)/Universidad de Guadalajara (Mexico)/P. Guzman Producciones Cinematograficas (Chile). (International sales: Doc & Co., Paris.) Produced by Jacques Bidon. Directed, written by Patricio Guzman.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, DV-to-35mm), Julia Munoz; editor, Claudio Martinez; music, Jorge Arriagada; sound (DTS digital), Alvaro Silva Wuth, Yves Warnant. Reviewed at the Cannes Film Festival (noncompeting), May 13, 2004. Running time: 100 MIN.

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