The subject matter of Carola Fuentes and Rafael Valdeavellano’s Chicago Boys is certainly worthy of documentary coverage but its narrow scope and dull presentation mean it is unlikely to appeal to many viewers other than students of financial history. Under the tutelage of Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger, from the mid-1950s onwards groups of economists from the Pontifical Catholic University in Santiago travelled to Chicago’s School of Economics to learn better teaching methods in order that they be equipped with the means necessary to rescue their country from ruin.
Many alumni – most notably Sergio de Castro and Ernesto Fontaine – would go on to fill positions in government, and it is thanks in no small part to them that contemporary Chile is attributed as having the strongest economy on the South American continent. Chicago Boys explores the birth of neo- liberalist policies that transformed a nation’s gross domestic product but whose monetary successes came at the cost of dictatorial rule, torture, murder and oppression. The Pinochet regime, inarguably the darkest chapter of Chile’s recent past, was a time of such unspeakable brutality that any film recalling the era should fill an audience member with a similar sense of searing injustice. Unfortunate, then, that the chaptered structure chosen by Fuentes and Valdeavellano is so lifeless.
Talking head interviews with men now in the their seventies, punctuated by archive news footage and photographs of younger faces, does little to instil the information with any bite. Video footage of mafia-like gatherings of old pals plotting to change their country should be edited down for impact and an intriguing – and largely unchallenged – angle that proclaims CIA involvement in the destabilisation of Salvador Allende’s government, and subsequent collaboration with the Pinochet administration, is not explored to a satisfactory level. There is plenty of supposition without too many breakthroughs and a female voice from behind the camera (presumably Fuentes’) poses questions that has subjects twisting awkwardly in seats from time to time but never really goes for the jugular. De Castro, when asked his thoughts on actions undertaken by his old pal ‘Pinocchio’, denies that he thought the rumours could possibly be true. And that is left at that.
There is no question that those interviewed here were certainly not directly complicit in military actions. But they were part of a system which disappeared many thousands and thousands of Chilean citizens and the ignorance is bliss defence given is a cop out that should have been ploughed further. Their actions may have paid dividends in the long run but Chicago Boys needed to be bolder, braver and clearer in its argumentation. It is a tame, tepid representation of a revolutionary time.
The 70th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 15-26 June. For info visit edfilmfest.org.uk.