Chilean Films in Toulouse

in 29th CinéLatino – 29th Rencontres Cinémas d'Amérique Latine

by Bojidar Manov

The Latin American film landscape is rich, sophisticated and diverse. From all across Mexico to the north of Chile down south to Argentina, hundreds of directors create a vibrant range of films: social and political dramas, classic melodramas with psychological twists, magical and mythological films, entertaining comedies, and even experimental work. To the surprise of many, Chilean cinema definitely stood out at this year’s festival. In the feature competition, there were four titles from Chile, presenting an impressive palette of subjects, ideas and cinematic approaches.

Four years ago, Fernando Guzzoni was in Toulouse for the 25th edition of Cinélatino with his debut film Dog Flesh (Carne de perro, 2012). Although he was not even born during Pinochet’s dictatorship, Guzzoni created an extremely strong historical imprint in the mind of his main character, whose interaction with former colleagues fails to bring him any psychological compensation for the actions of the past. In an almost Freudian way, this character’s ego keeps trying to redefine his existence in relation to an unconfessed guilt until he discovers religion, albeit in a sectarian fashion.

In his new film, Jesus, Guzzoni focuses on the topical issue of the current “lost generation” of young people, and the futility of a life divided between empty entertainment, alcohol and groundless violence. The dialogue between the single father (another strong part for actor Alejandro Goic, who appeared in Dog Flesh) and his wayward teenage son (Nicolas Duran) creates a tragic portrait of a generation with no ideals and no future. As he matures as a director of talent, Guzzoni will hopefully continue to seek out the social dimensions and psychological motivations within important contemporary issues. Moreover, with his distinct, bright cinematic language, somewhat influenced by the films of Pablo Larrain, he will be able to outline his own path and establish his name in contemporary Latin American cinema.

Another Chilean film, Bad Influence (Mala junta), the debut of director Claudia Huaiquimilla, deals with a similar subject and moral pathos. Again, the plot is set around the relationship between a single father and his teenage son, and it treats the problems of raising and educating adolescents. However, the director engages with another pressing socio-political issue; the son’s friend is from the small indigenous tribe Mapuche, which is subject to police repression and violence. This storyline is obviously very important for the filmmaker, who originates from the same tribe; it intensifies the already acute psychological conflict of the film, giving it more social significance and general humanitarian pathos in terms of human rights. Not surprisingly, the young audience in Toulouse applauded the film enthusiastically and awarded it their prize.

In his second feature, The Blind Christ (El cristo ciego), Christopher Murray offers special moral pathos and a peculiar Christian message. The plot is like that of a morality play, with its didactic statement that “God does not speak in church. He is in us. We need to hear His voice and follow it.” This revelation comes in the form of a dream to little Michael as he grows up in the Semi-arid Pampas of Tamarugal. Throughout his life he has followed these words in order to give hope, help and rescue to people in distress. In predominantly Catholic Latin America, this kind of concept is plausible. But Murray gives it additional credibility by plotting his film on the border between live action and documentary. This hybrid approach is reflected both in the film’s physical environment and the mentality of the characters, whose behavior and psychological responses seem organic within the general stylistics of the film. Thus the moral pronouncements from the screen do not seem hollow. A film like this is slightly anachronistic in the era of mass media saturation, but it is important to note its moral highlights, confirmed by both the long history of Christianity and universal common ethics.

Niles Atallan’s experimental film King (Rey) was a surprising addition to the Chilean selection. It is not so much a film as a visual-plastic hybrid of archive documentary footage, puppet sketches, spatial deformation of the image and rhythmograms, all used to depict the hallucinations of an eccentric lawyer as he attempts to improve society. It’s an experiment which is difficult to watch – and only by the most committed movie fans – but it does add to our sense that Chilean cinema is diverse, despite being a relatively small industry.

Edited by Lesley Chow