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Risk your body – obtain a new constitution

POLITICS / At Cannes, Patrizio Guzmán´s documentary offers one of the rare elements of hope in global politics.
Director: Patricio Guzmán
Producer: Renate Sachse
Country: Chile

With his intense, calm, fragile voice and cosmopolitical-driven comments, the Santiago-born Patricio Guzmán again returns to the place of his childhood, where a longtime expressed hope seems to get a reality these days.

A decade of torture under Pinochet’s Junta, followed by a phase of permanent renunciation and relativisation of the crimes, is the political background for a systematic impoverishment of a whole population. During the military dictatorship, the neo-liberal system was continued by right-wing leaders such as Patricio Aylwin, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, and since 2017, Sebastián Piñera. They all created the state of the unbearable. Real functional medical services have been accessible only to the elite; a collapsing education system, and the elderly who need to sell their last goods on the street are just some examples of a society without a real will for change and justice. Chilean governments had prepared the spirit of a growing rebellion for decades.

My Imaginary Country, a film by Patricio Guzmán
My Imaginary Country, a film by Patricio Guzmán

New (old) tensions

The complete ignorance facing peaceful demonstrations again raises the tensions. Still, the drop on the barrel to let the suppressed energies explode was the insignificant seeming augmentation of metro ticket prices in October 2019. People had never seen before on the streets finally expressed their profound discontent. The Piñera government answered with military violence, declared the protesters as the «powerful, irreconcilable enemy», and applied the state of emergency. The first targets attacked were journalists and photographers. It followed street violence on both sides, destruction of public spaces, and robbing of banks, shops, and pharmacies. During these days also, the largest ever seen peaceful demonstration in Chile brought 1,200,000 people on the streets, declaring «we are not in war», again insisting on Piñera’s dismissal and requesting a radical change. The most effective claim aimed at a referendum for changing the actual constitution – even with some modification – had been applied since Pinochet’s domination needs.

Remarkable watching the Chilean rebellion movement was missing a central ideology. It never had been pronounced as a negotiation process between left and right articulated interests, but as a general demand for social, juridical and cultural rights, a request for child care and education needs, press freedom, women’s and LGBTQI rights, as also for the recognition of indigenous cultures.

The rebellion also proceeded without a leader but as a permanent dialogue between its participants, who have learned to use and play with new communication and media tools. They expressed themselves not only by throwing stones against armies but also with new forms of creativity, such as artworks and signs in the public space, organising meetings, singing and other joyful protestations. It was an outbreak of togetherness, realised by people risking injuries, violations or even death. Around 400 people alone were counted who lost an eye.

It never had been pronounced as a negotiation process between left and right articulated interests, but as a general demand for social, juridical and cultural rights…

Female voices

Patricio Guzmán evokes the event using still images, footage of street protests and overlooking drone images. Still, he mostly gives voice and space to some of the protesters – government dissenters, political analysts, scholars, activists, homeless. All these chosen voices are exclusively women. Guzmán makes this point to show who represents a possibly different future for him. He often holds his camera near their faces, capturing the intimacy of small facial movements. All these women speak about the unbearable, which doesn’t let them have any choice but to fight for their children’s future. Not militant before, now they have become ready to sacrifice their bodies. As Guzmán points out in an interview: «Behind each person, there’s a deceased parent, a relative who was tortured or someone who suffered. People were forced to change jobs, relocate, families fragmented».

Finally, the unbelievable happened. In December 2019, a referendum for a new constitution was announced, confirmed by a huge majority. A preparing assembly with directly voted representatives was settled. The new delegates were mostly neutral party independent. The right-wing does not even reach a number of seats to block the new decision-making process.

Guzmán entered the parliament to film these new directly voted, mostly young members, between again many of them are women, an assembly under the leadership of indigenous Mapuche woman Elisa Loncon. The new constitution should be voted on this year, 2022.

My Imaginary Country, a film by Patricio Guzmán
My Imaginary Country, a film by Patricio Guzmán

A new beginning?

Guzmán in Cannes premiered documentary ends with the opening speech of the November 2021 newly elected president Gabriel Boric (*1986). Experienced in human rights questions, especially concerning women, indigenous and LGBTQI members, as well as work conditions and social security, he seems to be prepared for the upcoming challenges. But don’t forget, the candidate of the right-wing has nearly defeated him already two times.

The long nourished hope for a coming back to a real democracy in Chile, which Guzmán expressed in all his former films up from the first The First Year (1973) and The Battle Of Chile (1975-1979) up to Cordillera of Dreams, Nostalgia for the Light and The Pearl Button, now seems to take form after the long period of peoples suffering.

In the context of worldwide repressed democracies, this is a unique and remarkable movement (for the moment). Remembering the recent manifest revolts of the Yellow Vest movement in France, which seems today to be decomposed, even if the social conditions facing inflation and rising prices even got worse, we can ask, what makes the difference? An element of an answer surely is the different degrees of social suffering and political degradation between France and Chile as motivation for a real insisting rebellion. But also, we can remind the final speech of Salvador Allende to his people, in which he expressed his unbroken belief in them to sustain and one day obtain their request for dignity and justice. For this belief, he was ready to pay with his own life. His testament can be considered the conscience of all Chilean nation and culture.

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Dieter Wieczorek
Dieter Wieczorek
Wieczorek is a film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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