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Chilean Cinema Punches Above Its Weight

“We’re there to talk about cinema, not national flags,” Cannes’ topper Thierry Fremaux argued after announcing Cannes’ Official Selection this year. That said, 2017’s Cannes looks set to serve another reminder of one of world cinema’s biggest success stories: Chile’s emergence as a foremost Latin America’s filmmaking nation.

Led by Marcela Said’s Critics’ Week entry “Los Perros,” Chile boasts four films selected across major sections. From Latin America, only Argentina compares in presence.

At Berlin, “A Fantastic Woman,” from Chile’s Sebastian Lelio, was arguably the single most talked-about competition title.

Since 2012, four Chilean directors — Marialy Rivas, Andrés Wood, Sebastian Silva and Alejandro Fernandez Almendras — have taken Sundance awards; Pablo Larrain won at Cannes (“No”), Berlin (“The Club), Venice and Toronto (“Jackie”). Chilean movies can garner significant overseas box office for foreign-language films and attract prestige foreign producers: “Gloria” and “No,” co-financed by Participant Media, earned $9 million and $10.3 million worldwide, respectively.

“There’s a crop of Chilean directors with huge talent who know how to render local stories universal, shoot highly cinematographic films that are unique, different,” says Film Factory Ent.’s Vicente Canales, a frequent Chilean film sales agent.

Why Chile punches far above its weight in movies is another matter.

It is, of course, part chance. The current Chilean cinema is a generational phenomenon that burst onto the scene at the 2005 Valdivia Festival. Chilean cinema has benefitted from nearly two decades of government support, which can sometimes serve to weed out underdeveloped projects.

“When it’s too difficult to make movies, they just don’t get made,” says Fabula producer Juan de Dios Larrain. “It’s a nightmare. But if it’s too easy, movies would shoot when the script is not ready.”

Chile’s newest cinema taps outstanding talents from its theater scene, whether Guillermo Calderon, the playwright, who penned Larrain’s “Neruda,” or Alfredo Castro, a distinguished theater director and co-star of many Larrain movies and “Los Perros.”

Larger factors may be at play. “Chile is a land of storytellers,” says Constanza Arena, at CinemaChile. Chile’s walls — the Pacific, Andes and Atacama — “seem to compel us to connect with the rest of the world through narratives, stories and cinema.”

In industry terms, it could hardly be otherwise. Chile’s total box office soared from 10 million tickets sold in 2001 to 27.5 million last year, according to its National Council of Culture and the Arts. That said, Chile still has to look abroad for markets, often through co-productions that help “the director to make a film with the resources required and ratchets down risk, allowing us to earn income from early distribution and first sales,” says Jirafa Films’ Augusto Matte, producer of “Los Perros,” a five-way co-production between France, Chile, Argentina, Germany and Portugal.

Chile’s other three 2017 Cannes entries are all minority co-productions: Argentina’s “The Desert Bride,” Venezuela’s “La Familia,” and short “Selva,” made with Costa Rica and Argentina.

Chile’s first-class talent pool makes it an attractive co-producer partner; on romantic road-movie “The Desert Bride” it helped its Argentine partners working on a tight budget to access Berlin actress winner Paulina Garcia (“Gloria,” “Narcos,” “Little Men”) and “Neruda” cinematographer Sergio Armstrong.
Some Chilean filmmakers have consciously decided to make films for broader audiences than just festival crowds. “No,” with star Gael Garcia Bernal, was “the moment to mix, to have a movie that worked with the audience and festivals, with markets, juries,” Juan de Dios Larrain recalls.

Above all, Chilean films have something to say. Some rework classic Hollywood formulae. Set between 1947 and ’48, with Pablo Neruda on the run from the Chilean police, “Neruda” is a sophisticated origins story, showing how the poet forges his own literary legend as a symbol of freedom, while those around him, even the pulp novel-like cop who pursues him, attempt to bathe in the immortality of his glory.

Many Chilean films hinge on the failures of a liberal economy and its social collateral.

“Chilean films treat first-world problems, but have a lot of local and South American elements,” Arena has argued. “That double-identity makes them comprehensible over the world without their abandoning a Chilean identity.”

One first-world issue is the benefits of globalism, a mainstay of Western-world belief now questioned by Brexit and President Trump’s election victory. Haunted by memories of Pinochet’s dictatorship, Chilean filmmakers have never been so sanguine about progress, or upbeat about human nature.

“Los Perros” suggests that men of principle can collude in political genocide. “In the future, will the working class be like you or me?” a drunken woman lavatory cleaner asks Neruda in Larrain’s film. Like me, says the well-heeled Neruda. It hasn’t come to happen.

“The conflicts in Chilean cinema are compelling tensions found worldwide,” says Matte. “We’ve been taught what to think for so long and now we are thinking for ourselves.”

That could sum up the contemporary zeitgeist.

Some 22 Chilean companies will be presenting their projects at the Cannes Film Market. Here are some of the full-length fiction projects from their roster of features, documentaries and shorts:

Absence
Director: Claudio Marcone & Liu Marino
Prod. Cos.: Tantan Films/ Lucho Films
Logline: This drama revolves around a bored writer married to a retired military man whose only respite is her long-distance affair with a painter.

A.L.M.A.
Director: Matías Lira
Prod. Co.: Ocio Films
Logline: Based on real events, Lira’s film centers around a Japanese astronomer named Morita who finds a kindred spirit in a transgender man named Jesse. One night, Morita is murdered, leaving his unfinished research behind while Jesse fights for justice; in development.

The Desert Bride
Director: Cecilia Atan & Valeria Pivato
Prod. Co.: Ceibita Films
Logline: Un Certain Regard entry from a pair of first-time filmmakers, the romantic road movie stars Paulina Garcia as a live-in maid in Buenos Aires whose life changes when she meets El Gringo (Claudio Rissi) while trekking across the desert.

The Family

Director: Gustavo Rondon
Prod. Cos.: Avila Films/ Factor RH/Dah Hoel Filmprod/ Cine Cercano
Logline: This Critics’ Week entry — a Chilean, Venezuelan and Norwegian co-production — revolves around a busy young father and his 12-year-old son who roams the violent streets of their working-class neighborhood.

Late to Die Young
Director: Dominga Sotomayor
Prod. Cos.: Cinestacion Prods./Features, Ruda Cine, Circe Films
Logline: Sotomayor’s follow-up to her acclaimed feature debut “Thursday ’til Sunday” revolves around three children in a remote village who face a forest fire that threatens their sense of place. In post.

Los Perros
Director: Marcela Said
Prod. Co.: Jirafa
Logline: Said’s follow-up to her critically acclaimed debut “The Summer of Flying Fish” premieres at Critics’ Week. This drama concerns a bourgeois 40-year-old woman who is confronted by her own family’s dark past when her beloved horseback-riding instructor is suspected of war crimes during Pinochet’s regime.

Record
Director: Eitan Loi
Prod. Co.: Santa Cruz Prods.
Logline: Chile’s recycling industry serves as a backdrop to Eitan Loi’s directorial debut where three disparate lives intersect. In post.

Red Poppy
Director: Pablo Berthelon
Prod. Co.: Carnada Films
Logline: Fact-based WWII drama about the rise and fall of Chilean singer Rosita Serrano, accused of being a Nazi sympathizer. German co-producer boarding project at Cannes.

Tunnel 49
Director: David Albala
Prod. Co.: Storyboard Media
Logline: This drama is based on a real event in 1990 when 49 political prisoners escaped from a tunnel that took 18 months to dig; in development.

The Undeniable
Director: Nicolas Guzman
Prod. Co.: Agosto Cine
Logline: Based on a true story set in the ’90s about a divorced socialite who gives tacit approval to her doctor-friend’s inappropriate relationship with her 11-year-old daughter, until they are exposed.

The Wrath Of July
Director: Juan Elgueta
Prod. Co.: Valvula Films
Logline: After 20 years in Germany, a Chilean documentary filmmaker returns home, where he inadvertently gets involved in the conflict between an indigenous tribe and authorities. Seeking co-producers.

Anna Marie de la Fuente contributed to this report.

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