Perspectives From Different Streets Chiara Arroyo on Two Documentaries from Chile and Mexico

in 5th Mexico City International Contemporary Film Festival

by Chiara Arroyo Cella

Two documentaries. Two women. Two personal stories. One common approach: honesty.

Looking into the past with an appropriate distance. Santa Fe Street (Calle Santa Fe) directed by Chilean Carmen Castillo, and Intimates of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo (Intimidades de Shakespeare y Víctor Hugo) by Yulene Olaizola.

Santa Fe Street refers to the street in Santiago, Chile, where Miguel Enriquez, the leader of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR), was gunned down by Pinochet’s secret police the 5th of October, 1974. After three decades in exile, Enriquez’s widow, Carmen Castillo, returns to that haunted address. There, in the middle of a regular neighborhood, she and her husband lived in hiding with their two children (one each from previous liaisons) in the ten months before the fatal day. “I couldn’t die with him, I couldn’t die of his absence either,” she remembers, in voice-over. Six months pregnant at the time, Carmen was captured by the police but, unlike her husband, allowed to live. She was expelled from Chile and landed in France as a political refugee.

There she became a full-time anti-Pinochet campaigner. Only in 2002 she was ready to confront all phantoms Chile meant to her and started working on this moving love tribute. She directed before La flaca Alejandra and La verdadera leyenda del comandante Marcos.

The almost three-hour long documentary shows how she re-establishes contact with the neighbor who saved her life, the parents of deceased MIR activists, and her own family. But it also presents news footage charting the coup that brought General Pinochet to power on previews history’s fateful 11th of September, in 1973, and the subsequent brutal repression of all opposition to the regime. However, far from being self-indulgence neither complacency story, Santa Fe Street is used by the director to ask herself some uncomfortable questions. The main one and leitmotiv of this poetic-diary narration: Was it worth it? And then specifically: Did Miguel die for nothing? Did all the compañeros die for nothing? Was it right for her to stay in Paris when so many of them returned secretly to Chile at the risk of torture or death? Was the MIR’s exiled leadership right to send all militants back to Chile to relaunch guerrilla warfare in 1978 and to disband the movement in 1989 (without an internal debate)? Did her political commitment justify the abandonment of her daughter Camilla (who was sent to Cuba between the ages of 7 and 17)? Was is it so for all the children abandoned (because the clandestinely life chosen by their parents was too risky)? In front of our eyes, Carmen Castillo discusses all this frankly and sincerely with her affluent bourgeois parents, old friends, survivors and the new generation.

The contrast between sleepy present-day reality and the intensity of past experience carries on during the documentary, as moving meditation on revolutionary fervor and the landscape of memory. The image of Santiago de Chile at the end, with its global retail franchises and with an urgent necessity of moving on from Pinochet’s era, reflects indeed a better reality. However, the principles of that revolutionary dream seem to be still updated for the Chilean left democracy.

Yulene Olaizola is much younger than Carmen Castillo. She could be her daughter. She has not suffer the drama of a dictatorship, neither what is to be almost emotionally and physically dead. But Yulene as Carmen tell us their own story remaining true to their individual voices. Intimates of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo follows the mystery of Jorge Riosse, a special guest who lived with her grandmother, Rosa Carvajal. The title also refers to a corner of the streets in a rich neighborhood of Anzures, where the guesthouse still is. “My grandmother inherited the guest house. She used to live there as a child. Her father died and her mother decided to share the house and make profit of it”, explains the director. The story of Jorge Rios was a kind of a familiar tale Olaizola heard so many times. One day she took the subject for a school project. “I was very curious about him. I wanted to know more about this relationship my family didn’t accept”, explains the filmmaker.

Simply taking her video camera and sound micro pumped into her grandmother’s Mexico City residence and start recording. Rosa Carvajal, a beautiful old woman, still vain and a terrific raconteur who was a theater actress, becomes the main character of the story opening up in a way she probably wouldn’t for anyone else. She and her longtime maid Flor shared the feelings and the special connection built up during the months and years spent with Rios. Through their testimony, the audience makes up the profile of a fascinating handsome young man, music player, painter and seducer who had a double life and possibly sever schizophrenia. Rosa herself was seduced by him, probably because she seems to recognize the son she lost time ago.

The narration of the film reminds a detective story, where the revelation is delayed almost to the end through the editing. In fact, the edition was the most important and difficult part according to the director. “It was an exercise of cutting, and cutting until I realized the most important perspective was my grandmother’s.”

At one point Carvajal shows the director old news published on different papers of a serial killer and the possibility of being Jorge. Despite of the threat has been nearby, the films keeps the tranquility and an everyday look into the bizarre without any judgment, as Rosa did: “My dear crazy, who died before strangled me”. As many directors, Yulene Olaizola uses her own world to tell stories, but what stands out is the distance and the objectivity (if it does exist) she works with. Look at your own life with foreign eyes is not an easy exercise. The debut of this young Mexican director is by far a good example of how to appeal the audience’s attention with an intimate story, without losing the point of view.