A story of paranoia and authoritarian government in 1976 Santiago that advances into an intelligent political thriller, Chile ’76 is the latest film from Chilean filmmaker Manuela Martelli. It boasts a more psychological approach and features a very commanding performance from actress Aline Küppenheim. Validly exploring the draconian iron fist of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile without indulging too much in heavy-handedness, this opaquely crafted political drama delivers some evocation and an austere compassionate tale of a wealthy woman coming to realization of her apathy and complicity that has enabled the rise of Pinochet after she stumbles into nursing a survivor of an anti-Pinochet resistance group. The end result is a compelling and engrossing film that doesn’t quite deliver all the impact that it aims for, but the film still feels precisely crafted with a deep level of earned altruism and decorum.
Küppenheim plays the title character Carmen (also see Carmen 2023), a modish daughter of a wealthy doctor who is currently residing and redecorating their summer vacation home on the Pacific Ocean, where they visit and mingle with some friends of her husband’s who hold very strong right-wing beliefs. Meanwhile, everyone is on edge in the local vicinity, as Pinochet’s secret police often arrest dissenters and other detractors. Carmen, like the rest of the Pinochet apologists, looks away and often begrudges the poor and working class as being the issues with Chile over Pinochet. Carmen, on the other hand, is terrified; she is in shock, and she suppresses her political and emotional critical thinking as everyone else around her is just a reactionary lapdog to Pinochet.
Courtesy Kino Lorber
Plagued with anxiety and guilt, Carmen ends up helping a local Catholic priest named Father Sanchez (Hugo Medina) work in his Red Cross program. Carmen has experience in nursing, which she had to deprive herself of when she was younger in order to marry instead. The father ends up asking Carmen to assist Elias (Nicolas Sepulveda), a young guest hiding in his guest room who is wounded from a bullet wound in his left leg. Carmen begins to hold disdain for the Pinochet regime, and tyranny is rising all around her. Dead bodies float up on shore, people are detained in the streets, and her husband’s Pinochet-supporting friends tend to only care about their own self-interest over other people. Carmen ends up healing Elias, who is attempting to overthrow Pinochet, but her anxiety kicks in as she begins to feel she’s under constant surveillance.
While the film ends on an ambiguous note, it triumphs in chronicling how one maintains humanity and finds humility during a very oppressive era. Highly involving and humanistic, Chile 76 examines the small courage of one person rather than making a combative polemic on a failed regime. The film examines priorities and how human decency is worth protecting and fighting for under the shadow of draconian forces. Maratelli intertwines the personal and the political with a sophisticated, low-key political thriller that intelligently draws parallels to our modern political turmoil, where we need even more sympathetic human hearts and grace like the film’s protagonist holds.
Chile ’76 is now playing in limited theaters