Progressive cinema by Bill Meyer Compelling portrait of Allende

Film Review

The following is the third in a series of articles on last month’s Toronto International Film Festival.

Salvador Allende Canada

Struck by the fact that there are very few artifacts in Chile today of former President Salvador Allende, director Patricio Guzman took his camera back once again to his homeland to pay tribute to the great socialist leader.

Guzman has dedicated most of his film career to keeping alive not only Salvador Allende’s memory, but the realities of one of the few attempts in history to bring about a socialist revolution via an electoral path.

His earlier works include the seminal opus, “Battle of Chile,” a powerful three-part chronicle of the tragic days following the military coup that overthrew Allende and his government on Sept. 11, 1973. Cans of raw footage were fortunately smuggled out of Chile after the military coup, to be edited in Europe.

In 1997, exiled Guzman returned to Chile with a copy of this epic film that had rarely been seen in his homeland, and private screenings across the country brought back lost memories and an emotional and political catharsis. This journey was the subject of his film, “Chile, An Obstinate Memory.”

His most recent film, “The Pinochet Case,” examined the charges brought against the Chilean dictator, who led the coup against Allende. It was a powerful display of investigative journalism and contained convincing evidence of the crimes of dictator Augusto Pinochet brought before the World Court.

Guzman’s films are characterized by an aching nostalgia for his homeland, Allende and the democratic socialist revolution that held so much promise. His humanism is displayed in the expressive and passionate narration, his choice of rare photos and historical footage, and in his delicate manner of treating his subjects with compassion and understanding. Guzman’s film technique was honed in the early years of the revolution and his forced exile seasoned his longing to return home and pay tribute to the leftists and their dreams for a better society.

In his current work, “Salvador Allende,” Guzman researches the actual life and work of the president himself. Information lost to history, forgotten friends and family members reflect on his compelling personality, charm and intellect. Allende, who was also a physician, was a born politician, determined to be honest and representative of all the people of the country.

Rare photos of his early years show a young idealistic man, not unlike Che Guevara, exploring alternatives to the oppressive exploitation of the capitalist system. His landslide victory was only overshadowed by the United States’ interest in seeing his Popular Unity government eliminated. Funding opposition and acts of sabotage, the U.S. was successful in toppling one of the most promising governments in Chile.

Allende’s final days in office are poignantly presented in the film, with his few remaining supporters recollecting his determination to stick to his promises. His tragic suicide, in the presidential palace as warplanes are bombing the building, began 18 years of a brutal dictatorship that only recently ended.

His contributions to world peace commitment to building a just and peaceful society without violence should not go unrecognized. If Patricio Guzman has anything to do with it, this will never be forgotten.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.