A wealthy middle-aged woman finds herself drawn into helping rebels opposed to the brutal Pinochet regime in this historical thriller that's curiously lacking in intrigue.
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Like a lot of Americans, my grasp of Central and South American history is sadly lacking. I know the Pinochet regime in Chile was a military coup of an elected socialist government; it was supported by the Nixon administration and was infamous for its brutal crackdown of its opposition. People were known to be “disappeared” for anti-government activities at the drop of a hat.
“Chile ’76” is a historical thriller looking at one wealthy, middle-aged woman being drawn into helping some rebels. It’s been described as Hitchcockian, though I found it to be curiously lacking in intrigue and tension.
(In Chile, it’s simply known as “1976.”)
Carmen (Aline Kuppenheim) is the wife of a well-to-do doctor, Miguel (Alejandro Goic). She worked with the Red Cross as a young woman and thought of going into medicine herself, but a traditional role as wife, mother and now grandmother beckoned. She’s a woman of considerable intelligence and capability, left with little to do… and it’s clear the boredom is wearing on her.
Living in Santiago, as the story opens they have just moved back to their beachside bungalow for the winter. Carmen busies herself with directing her staff, including live-in maid/cook Estela (Carmen Gloria Martínez) and some men working on a major re-do of their patio and party room. She chooses a soothing pink sunrise shade of paint for the renovation.
Carmen also helps fill her days with charitable work like reading books to blind people and bringing food and supplies to the nearby church.
The pastor, Father Sánchez (Hugo Medina), implores her to use her healing skills on an injured young priest, Elias (Nicolás Sepúlveda), who has been put up in a remote room in the church staff quarters. The bullet wound in his leg, and the insistence upon strict confidence, quickly clues Carmen in that they are part of the insurgency.
Whether through a sense of medical responsibility, maternal instincts or political sympathy, Carmen finds herself drawn to the young man’s plight. As he recovers, she agrees to make contact with his comrades to arrange his return. One thing leads to another and soon enough she finds herself driving around the country, having surreptitious meetings and endangering herself by staying out past the strict curfew.
Director Manuela Martelli, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Alejandra Moffat, focuses more on the internal anxiety Carmen experiences rather than setting up an intricate plot of double-crosses and surprises. It’s less spycraft and more existential plight. Carmen is clearly not cut out for this sort of enterprise, and slowly wilts under the strain.
I enjoyed the electronica music score by Mariá Portugal, a rather atonal series of chirps and pulses that help put us inside Carmen’s head as she sinks deeper and deeper into a morass of fear. The photography by Yarará Rodríguez is quite lovely while also fostering a creeping sense of claustrophobia.
But to my eyes this is a movie that’s all build-up with no third act where everything this woman has been through pays off in a cathartic resolution. Things end rather abruptly, and I suppose logically, just as the picture seemed to be reaching for its top gear.
I often complain about how so many movies are too long these days and lack prudent editing. Here’s the rare film that I desperately craved more of.