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The Battle of Chile (Icarus Films)

In 1973, with the presidency of Salvador Allende facing fierce opposition from a variety of right-wing factions and outside forces, Patricio Guzmán and a skeleton film crew took their cameras the streets, factories and government buildings of Chile and recorded history as it happened. Only a few months later, Allende was dead, Augusto Pinochet took his place, and Guzmán was forced to flee to Cuba with his film stock to complete the most arresting piece of cinéma vérité ever created: The Battle Of Chile.

This three part, four hour documentary that bears witness to the events leading up to the CIA-backed coup, capturing a startling amount of key moments in this transition: from the rallies and parades by union workers, students and leftist organizations in support of Allende to the halls of the Chilean Senate where the former President’s power and legislation was systematically undercut to the horrifying pictures of bombs striking the Presidential Palace during the last moments of Allende’s life.

The new DVD release of the film puts the film together perfectly, setting each section on its own disc, with a fourth featuring a 1997 documentary by Guzmán following him back to Chile to show the film for the first time within its borders. Viewers need to take the film in through these three distinct sections, rather than in one free-flowing nonstop experience.

The first, subtitled The Insurrection Of The Bourgeoisie, drops you right into the political wranglings of the moments, as it opens with interviews with Chilean citizens trying to predict the results of an upcoming congressional election. As it moves ahead, you watch the tug of war between the democratic socialist side and the right wing factions of the government within the walls of their Congress, but also how it is affecting the citizens of the country. By the end of this section, violence is starting to take hold, a thread that runs directly through the film’s second part, The Coup d`état.

Over the course of 88 minutes, the government of Allende is chipped away at, piece by piece. The economy and industry is thrown into turmoil, and his move to form an alliance with military leaders is undercut by the assassination of a key official. By the end, military forces are waging a campaign through Santiago to depose Allende, who has by this point accepted his fate and expresses his willingness to die for his beliefs (even after refusing an offer of a plane ride out of the country by opposition leaders).

It’s devastating, but important stuff, and having the break given to you to take those few moments to take one disc out and put the other in, is enough to let the full weight of what you have just seen sink in. Don’t be surprised if you end up taking a longer breath between each successive disc.

The third part, subtitled The Power Of The People, does leave you with some measure of hope. It focuses on the efforts within the factories and impoverished villages of Chile to maintain control amid this chaos. They take control of their factories and farms, unionizing to insure they are taken care of financially and physically (some groups were forced to guard their work places for fear of sabotage by the military). They even gratefully set up cooperatives in their villages when opposition leaders cut off food distribution channels, taking products directly from farms and manufacturers to small storefronts where they are rationed out. Even if the edges of this section are slightly darkened by the knowledge of what is forthcoming for the people of Chile, it is still heartening to see how resourceful and powerful common citizens can be in times of crisis.

February 14, 2010 - Posted by | DVD review | , ,

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