Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Notes on La Batalla de Chile by Patrico Guzman, Chile /France: 1975-1979

Actually the film consists of three different parts which follow each other not always chronical. The first part takes part during the election 1972 and the fight for the political power. 

La Insurrección de la burguesia (The revolt of the Bourgoisie)

The first part is last but not least a portrait of this specific time, the hope of the left and the mostly illiterate and underprivileged working class for a strengthened government of the Unidad Popular. Guzman and his cinematographer Jorge Müller Siva recorded the mood, captured this special year which was full of hope for the followers of the Unidad Popular and full of hate for upper, and middle class against the Unidad Popular. Opposite to my expectations, this first part looks rather like Cinéma Verité . Even though Guzman and his team were followers of the Unidad Popular, this part reveals the self confidence that the justice will triumph and the Unidad Popular will stabilize its very fragile power. Chile at that time was one of very few Latin American states with a legitimate free elected democratic government surrounded by mostly fascistic countries. As the filmmaker interviews followers and opponents of the government, in this part of the film we can still feel this special optimism. Despite what I know about the end of Allende, Unidad Popular and the raising of the people from Chile, the first part of Guzman´s film still reveals a kind of optimism which seems to be rebel against my knowledge about this part of history. No crisis, no obstacle still to overcome by the people of Chile and their government, is left out: sabotage actions against factories to weaken the economy of the government, boycott from the right wing opposition which still had the majority in the parliament, Strikes of the transport union (financed from the American Secret Service and so on. There are still the shadows the fatal influence of the USA and most parts of the western world to ensure their economic interests. 

The film was made to record a country on the move but also one of the very few tries to develop a social change in this post colonial continent. Mankind went never further than Chile at that time. But there is also the knowledge which occupies my mind: the cinematographer Jorge Müller Siva was assassinated close after the coup-d´etat, Patricio Guzman could escape Chile after being imprisoned only with a lot of luck. Even the pictures I see are smuggled out of the country with the help of the Swedish ambassador.
I feel in this part the loneliness of a time traveller who has the privilege to experience history non-filtered but who is getting crazy about the fact he knows the end of this chapter of history.

I was 14 when I listed radio on that very day, September 11, 1973. I was not interested in politics at all. I listened songs and dreamt. In my school we just went to German history between 1933 to 1945 and my teacher spent a lot of time for this lessons. It was the first time I learned about the dark German past in detail. While I was hoping to listen one of my favorite songs, I think it was a broadcasting called Mittagsmagazin ( Westdeutscher Rundfunk), a music piece was suddenly interrupted and the reporter phoned with a foreign correspondent who told about the coup d´état in Chile. Of course, I didn´t know anything about Chile, Allende and the Unidad Popular but I remember at that moment as vague as it was in my adolescent mind –that I was comparing it with my history lessons on Germany, Hitler and the Holocaust. 

I remember how disturbed I was and how even more disturbed I was about the fact how openly the right win in Germany applauded the bloodshed of General Pinochet. 

I am not sure if I was aware that most of the followers of the Unidad Popular were from the same class like my family and me - mostly workers who had especially in Chile all reasons to fight for a better life. This impression and this vague disturbance faded away when I grew up and when I was occupied with adolescent problems. But later, much later this day always came back, at the time of my politicisation in the late 1970s until the late 1980s. Today, I have the strong feeling this very day, September 11 in Chile was the end of my childhood. 


El golpe de estado (The coup détat)

Part Two is about the last weeks of the Unidad Popular and ends with this coup d´etat of General Pinochet and the death of Salvador Allende. It is interesting that the standard argument of the mostly civic (even social democratic)governments around the world and especially of the Right wing politicians like Franz Josef Strauß, chief minister of the German province Bavaria is, that this coup d´etat was necessary to keep the public order alive. In the western press, the bloodshed was nearly a taboo. The involvement of the CIA in this bloodshed is today a recognized fact, most of the terror attacks against factories or public institutions did not happen without their involvement. Like in the first part, the struggle of the Chilean people is here no subject for propaganda, it is a fact. Their struggle for social justice, their supporting of the Unidad Popular couldn´t be stopped anymore. The slogan “power to the people” began to be realised seriously. The workers tried to protect their factories (already abandoned by its “owners” against terror attacks and sabotage. They even organized the division of food supplies. 

And again when I saw this film (which I did just last year for the first time), I was thinking again in this disturbance I felt when I was a teenager. We learnt democracy in schools, in a country less than 30 years after the Nazi-regime. In my naivety it was almost impossible to understand that a democratic elected government like Allende´s was in short time destroyed and replaced by one of the cruelest military dictature in Latin America. 

Even in these most dramatic moments of the people of Chile, Guzman´s confidence in the truth revealed in his film is big enough not to ignore the mistakes of the government Allende or the difficult way to establish a socialistic society in a state which structure was still the structure of the old Chile.
The chronicle of the “Battle of Chile” ends already with Part two.

El poder popular (The Power of the People)

The third part is a kind of long epilogue. More than the first two parts, this one is the most reflective. Released two years after the previous one it is an echo from the exile. Part Three seems to be a counterpart to Part Two. As the tragedy has ended, in his last part the film goes back to the people and their fight. Less prosaic than the first parts, the film is like a document of the heritage of this movement. We see workers discussing in the factories. People from whom a lot can hardly write or read are not only discussing about their own surviving but also on a level which is nothing less than supportive for the government, a government almost unable to move because of being boycotted by the right wing opposition in the parliament and struggling against the danger of a coup d´etat. The coup d´etat by General Pinochet was not just the overturning of a left government, it was the smashing of the people´s dignity. And from this dignity we experience a lot when we listen workers discussing the problems and what next steps are to make. 
In Chile where even the basic school education was a luxury, the people made some steps in a direction we in the rich western countries didn´t even dare to dream of.

This part of Guzman´s epic documentary makes me proud and sad at the same time. Even though we know aboout the end of the Unidad Popular, the bloodshed against activists, workers, artists, intellectuals - these captured moments of the dignity of the people remain, they seem to rebel against the chronicle of this part of history. The anthem of the Unidad Popular (which was of course banned for a long time after the coup d´etat) is evident here. It is a strange change between optimism and the sadness about the fact of a lost fight.

It is the most subversive part of the film, because it shows a democratic movement from below which couldn´t be stopped anymore with diplomatic, political network of intrigues in and outside of Chile. There was a dignity which challenged the economic power of the USA which considered Latin America not more as a farm in their back yard. The project Unidad Popular was smashed down with violence one of the most courageous social movement in the Twentieth Century became victim of the most professional terror organisation which is called CIA. 

La Batalla de Chile would be already an good documentary just as a recording of a very specific part of history. But like all great films, there are much more aspects coming together. It is also the try of a recondition of a national trauma, often misinterpreted outside of Chile. It is also a film made by a filmmaker who went through history with his body and soul, who lost his family and friends. After the nightmarish end of the Unidad Popular, the last part shares also the dream of a social movement which is today as current as it was nearly 40 years ago. 

Even though Guzman does not really intend to evoke emotions, I will be unable to write on it in a very prosaic way. It is also a film about people who have lived their dreams for a better world. Last but not least it is also a film photographed by the cinematographer Jorge Müller Silva who was killed soon after his work was finished and probably because of this work. Finally it is also a film by a filmmaker who experienced what he shows. The film is authentic and heartbreaking at the same time.

Rüdiger Tomczak

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