Chilean documentarian Patricio Guzmán’s The Cordillera of Dreams caps off an astonishing set of history-focused essay films, beginning with Nostalgia for the Light and continuing with The Pearl Button. The trilogy represents one of the great artistic statements of the decade.
Closer to home geographically, personally and spiritually, than the Atacama Desert (Nostalgia for the Light) and the wild Patagonian south (The Pearl Button), Guzmán’s latest concentrates on the stretch of the Andes around his hometown, Santiago, the centre of the vile Pinochet regime. As ever, the juxtaposition between the natural world and its majesty is starkly contrasted and complicated by the psychic traumas of political terror and crimes against humanity.
Taking on a more personal slant than the previous entries in the topographic trilogy, Guzmán’s sorrow is clearly elucidated upon in his voiceover narration, where he ruminates on the Andes as both protector of people and recorder of history. If only the Cordillera could talk, what wisdom would they impart, what would they tell us about the past, he ponders in one scene. In another, the director imagines the sounds a set of steps he remembered from childhood might make if they had a voice to speak. Would they cry in anguish, recalling the torrents of human blood which flowed over them?
A football stadium in the capital, scene of a famous triumph over Italy, in the 1962 World Cup, where once little Patricio cheered on his team, became a makeshift concentration camp for the leftist political enemies of the state. Every street corner, every building, every neighbourhood gives the director very mixed emotions, the filmmaker caught in mental dissonance between warm feelings and sentimentality for his youth and the horrors of political oppression.
The Cordillera of Dreams is a stirring look at a nation still recovering from the brutalisation meted out by General Pinochet’s callous and paranoid actions, but Guzmán goes further to offer his opinion of the present issues facing the country, specifically neoliberalism’s assault on land, resources and people. The gulf between rich and poor disturbs him profoundly. The director concludes his film on a note of optimism, or is it more like a prayer? He longs for Chile to rediscover its old sense of joy and community. The Pinochet regime didn’t just murder and oppress, Guzmán believes the dictator changed Chile’s mentality. Even now, almost thirty years on, the scars are not healed.
Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio