The Battle of Chile (1975-78, Patricio Guzmán)

“Popular unity against the criminal bourgeoisie!”
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Other street protest chants:
“Bourgeois shit, the street belongs to the left!”
“We need an iron hand!” (?!)

I alternately see this referred to as an epic 1979 movie, a long two-parter with a third-part postscript, or three separate movies. I guess they were presented theatrically in different ways in different countries. The 2/1 split seems right to me, as I’ll explain.

Part one drops me into the middle of an election in March 1973, which I didn’t understand until towards the end of the movie. I wondered why nobody was saying Salvador Allende’s name – turns out it was a senate election, and either the pro-Allende party lost, or they just did not gain enough seats in congress to prevent the opposition from holding a majority. So for the rest of Allende’s short reign as president, the country’s senate is mostly against him, undermining his authority. Movie is on the street, taking opinions from everyone, kind of slow at the start since I don’t know what’s happening, but excitement is in the air, and things straighten out soon enough. Cameraman is terrific, patient but curious, always looking for the best thing to shoot even if it means wandering off the person talking. I can’t believe the sound guy can keep up with him, but he does.

Salvador Allende:
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A politician:
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Part two picks up right where the first one ends, with an attempted military coup on June 29 1973, and part two ends Sept. 11 1973 with the successful coup that killed Allende and instated General Pinochet as ruler. In between those dates, Guzmán covers everything that happens in the whole country, it seems, with access to the marches, the debates, worker meetings, everything but the secretive military that turns against its country (with help and provocation, it turns out, from the U.S. government). This is by far my favorite of the three parts, and could easily work as a standalone movie… I see the Film Forum in NYC thought so as well. The events themselves, a democratic country swerving communist then falling military-dictatorship, is the best movie material you could hope for and Guzmán and his crew make the best of it, watching from ground zero as history is made, producing one of the best docs I’ve ever seen.

Military man who shot and killed Argentine cameraman Leonard Hendrickson at the end of part one:
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Salvador Allende, file photo:
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Bombing of the presidential palace:
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Pinochet addressing the nation on TV:
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Military rule:
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Pinochet: “After three years of support for the Marxist cancer we have been given a disaster that is economic, moral and social, that could not continue to be tolerated by the sacred interests of the mother country.” (or something like that – I think it’s all amateur-translated)

Guzmán: “From the 11th of September, all resources of the Chilean army are mobilized to repress the popular movement with the compacency of the North American government. The first armed resistance offered by some industrial cords, agricultural populations and student centers are squashed quickly in unequal fight. Thousands of people are killed and the main sport fields become concentration camps. The longest democracy in the history of Latin America ceases to exist.”

I don’t exactly wish I’d skipped part 3, but it would’ve made a nice recap six months later instead of watching it right after 1 and 2. Filmmaking in Chile wasn’t easy during Pinochet’s rule, since Pinochet was killing and imprisoning everyone who disagreed with him, including the cameraman of Battle of Chile (to whom the completed work was dedicated), so Guzmán backs up and shows further details of the workers’ movements during Allende’s presidency, not again mentioning Pinochet or the violence. The many worker meetings and the creation of multi-factory blocs and the attempted attack on Allende’s credibility by the “Christian Democrats” (his primary opposition) via a U.S.-funded transportation strike had all been covered in the previous films, but now we see them in greater depth… “depth” meaning lots of guys with sideburns talking into microphones at meetings. Since I’m not personally interested in creating a communist worker’s paradise in my own neighborhood, part three wasn’t of much use to me, but I’ll bet it’s exactly what Chris Marker was hoping for when he helped fund Guzmán’s efforts to document what was happening in the country. Marker’s own angry reaction to the coup is documented in his short Embassy, which I’ll have to watch again now that it’s on a new, clean DVD.

The transportation strike:
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The people:
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The sideburns:
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The revolution:
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