Salvador Allende

Salvador Allende (Chile/France/Belgium/Germany/Spain/Mexico, director Patricio Guzmán): September 11 will forever be remembered in this country as the anniversary of the attacks that brought down the World Trade Center. But it’s also the anniversary of the death of Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president of Chile whose government was brought down by a CIA-backed coup d’etat in 1973. Director Guzmán has spent his entire filmmaking career documenting and exploring the tragic recent history of his country, and with this film he finally turns to Allende, a hero to Chile’s political left. The coup that resulted in his death led to 18 years of brutal dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet, a dark period from which the country hasn’t entirely emerged.

A deeply personal portrait, the film probably makes more sense in the context of Guzmán’s other films. For someone who doesn’t have much background on Chile, it can be a bit maddening since it assumes a familiarity with the history of Chilean politics. Early film of Allende campaigning for president is quite moving, though. The director has mostly been based in Paris since he fled Chile after the coup, and it’s clear that the Chile to which he returns doesn’t have much time for him. His interviews with old Socialist Party members are touching, but seem only nostalgic. He doesn’t talk to anyone from the current political scene, and an interview with the former US ambassador appears to have been conducted by someone else, a long time ago.

The fact that no official biography of Allende has ever been published in Chile is remarkable. It’s almost as if Chileans want not only to forget the nightmare of Pinochet, but also the dream of utopia that Allende offered beforehand. Sadly, at this point in Chile’s history, Guzmán seems a bit like one of the old comrades he interviews: condemned to irrelevance.

On the other hand, the parallels between Allende and current Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez are remarkable, including the opposition’s tactics of strikes and economic protests. It is no wonder that Chavez suspects US involvement in the coup that nearly toppled his government in 2002. In that coup, while Chavez and his ministers were holed up in the presidential palace, the army threatened to bomb the building, a threat that was actually carried out by the Chilean military in 1973. The footage shot by Guzmán of that event is particularly chilling. My hope is that Allende’s idealism and commitment to peaceful change are a beacon for Chavez, and indeed for all the people of Latin America and the rest of the world. He was one of the first heads of state to warn about the dangers of multinational corporations, for instance, and it is clearer than ever that the struggle of the world’s people is no longer about Cold War allegiances and ideologies, but against rampant global capitalism and the consumerism that feeds it. Guzmán said he wanted to make this film for young people. Perhaps in a few years’ time, he can make another film in Chile, not about old soldiers, but about young ones.

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