During the Pinochet dictatorship, only two national feature films were released in Chile but over the last decade of this century some two dozen new films were premiered every year.
Chilean cinema is now pulled between local identities and mainstream global aesthetics: a time of adaptation and dilution, of compromise and commitment.
The two editors of “Chilean cinema in the twenty-first century world” question in what sense a national focus remains a worthwhile way of approaching the country’s film production.
The penetration of global capital makes it possible to ask whether even a regional context is useful.
Any essentialist approach to Latin American cinema has to confront the reality of an international film world, its funding and distribution.
The films of Pablo Larraín and Sabastián Lelio bear testimony to ambivalences that arise when directors aspire to global reach. NO (2012), the first Chilean feature to be nominated for an Oscar for best foreign-language film, looks at the 1988 referendum that Pinochet felt confident would legitimise his dictatorship.
Its focus on matters political is admirable but the mobilization of the Left in the run-up to the referendum is sidestepped and the marketing strategy of a clever advertising executive is seen as key to securing a No victory.
“The Club” (El Club, 2015), also the work of Larraín, is a study of the pain inflicted by those in power – in this case sexual abuse by priests– it resonates with the complicity of sections of Chilean society with the abuses of the Pinochet regime.
“A fantastic woman” (Una mujer fantástica, 2017) was also nominated for best foreign-language film and won an Oscar. As a touching portrayal of a trans* woman, Marina, dealing with the sudden death of Orlando, her partner, it is not difficult to see why.
Subject to the biopolitics of the Chilean state and the prejudices of Orlando’s family, Marina wins respect for the fortitude with which she upholds the right to mourn a loved one.
Any compassionate liberal will be on her side but, as is pointed out in this book, the film makes Marina’s plight uncharacteristic of the difficulties facing trans* (it helps that she is white, financially secure and a talented opera singer).
The contributors to this set of essays share a critical attitude towards contemporary Chilean cinema. The result is an invaluable guide for anglophones while its critical instincts make it vital reading for anyone with an interest in film.
The book will also have you looking to see “Actores secundarios” (2004) and “La ciudad de los fotógrafos” (2006), about the way the dictatorship etched its influence on the lives of Chilean people, and two other 2017 documentaries about not the victims but the perpetrators of violence under Pinochet – “El pacto de Adriana” and “El color del camaleón”.
“Chilean cinema in the twenty-first century world”, edited by Vania Barraza and Carl Fischer, is published by Wayne State University Press.