Augusto Pinochet and his wife Lucía Hiriart in Impresiones de Chile. National Audiovisual Institute of France
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the coup in Chile, the Reina Sofía Museum projects and justifies a work of great value in Spanish cinema: Impressions of Chile from 1977, a documentary film about the Pinochet regime, shot on location with unusual freedom.
We say Spanish cinema because its author was a Spaniard, José María Berzosa (Albacete, 1928 – Paris, 2018), and because the artistic-political core of the documentary is purely Spanish; We say it of Spanish cinema, for this reason and despite the fact that the exiled Berzosa was and still is an almost ignored figure in Spain.
The documentary Impressions of Chile was shown in its entirety only once in Spain at the National Film Archive in 1981 and was produced by the National Audiovisual Institute of France. The documentary is divided into four episodes, totaling more than four hours. Berzosa also made a feature film with two of the four episodes to facilitate distribution and this montage was also shown in Spain, although very rarely and in film circles.
We say documentary, although we should say film, because the uniqueness of Berzosa, his exceptionality for the time, is that he combines the objectivity of documentary and political commitment, methodological rigor and moral rigor with creative subjectivity. In short, one could speak of an author’s documentary, although Berzosa denied this qualification, he found it presumptuous. The fact is that his career as a director on French television determined, technically and conceptually, his style in all his works, about 150 films, most of them documentaries.
As for the purely Spanish artistic-political core: it is something like that – firstly – because it enters into dialogue with the traditions of black humor, baroqueism and the grotesque; and the second, basically because he was an anti-Francoist. His portrait of Chile is a mirror game in which he also portrays the Spain he left. Franco had died two years before his trip to Chile, but historically he had not died at all: with Pinochet, Berzosa read Franco; In Chile, Berzosa read Spain.
Relative of a missing person in Impresiones de Chile. National Audiovisual Institute of France
One of his three sons, Daniel, tells us by telephone from Paris how his father left Spain. He came from a wealthy family in Albacete and worked as a lawyer, but his passion was cinema and between this and his left-wing thinking he lived with the intention of living in France. One day, the young man got into an argument on the street with a soldier he had met during his military service and shouted: “Franco is a son of a bitch or something.” As Daniel Berzosa remembers, his father was gripped by fear Having expressed this in public and the desire to leave, he packed up his suitcase after a few months and traveled to Paris, where he had received a scholarship to study at the Cinematographic Institute of Higher Studies (Idhec).
In the 1960s, the golden years of the new, political and experimental film scene in Paris, he began to establish himself as an assistant to filmmakers and a director on French television. He was close to Luis Buñuel and even appeared as a character in his 1969 film “The Milky Way”. He was an admirer and student of Buñuel and the influence of this myth on his cinema is clear. Impresiones de Chile’s combination of blackness and comedy contains Buñuel, and more than Buñuel, the exuberant Iberian tradition of dancing between death and laughter. Seeing impressions from Chile, for example, means seeing Goya’s capriccios.
We go to a scene from episode three, “To the Happiness of Generals,” where he interviews three generals of the military junta. We see Admiral Merino, the head of the Navy, standing in uniform next to the sculpture of a girl with a dove in her arms.
-What does this sculpture represent in your office? – asks Berzosa with his tone reminiscent of La Mancha, with the seriousness of a person who avoids ridicule.
-Represents my daughters.
-And the pigeon?
-Peace and innocence.
The Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990) claimed more than 40,000 victims of various kinds, including more than 3,000 dead or missing.
This horror occurred while the admiral was posing with the girl with the dove and, in another scene, painting in oils in the garden of his mansion, and while in the living room, in another scene of Berzosa’s sharp montage, he was ranting about philosophy (“The most read is Ortega”; “Schopenhauer makes you very bitter”; “Marx is not a philosopher, he is a pseudo-philosopher!!”) or geopolitics (“Franco surpasses every European politician here.” Century”), on the sofa in his living room, with his wife sitting next to him and is silent except when they ask him what he did before the coup and he replies that he ran a naval home for children…that takes a few seconds to get to that word “lazy.” This horror occurred when Berzosa and his deputy director, the journalist Chantal Baudis, questioned the generals about banal things that, as Arendt said, are the things of evil. The head of aviation, Leigh, the According to Daniel Berzosa, his father seemed wiser and more cautious, defined the situation in Chile as “a period of national political calm” and declared: “I do not accept violence in any of its forms.” “I would be the first to resign from office if I could prove violence against anyone in this country.” He confirmed it and lowered his eyes because he had sinned. And in his wonderful residence he showed his little birds in their cages, his hobby, and in the living room he listened to classical music with his wife, of Jacquelinesque poise, style and beauty, with a permanent Washingtonian smile, with his wife, who also speaks hardly, unless the language is perceived as very intelligent and has the gift of ambiguity. When they ask him how he feels in front of him, he replies: “Nervous. And a charm.” Smile. The horror of Chile occurred when Berzosa asked: “What is the current Chilean democracy?” to the director of the Carabineros, General Mendoza, and the soldier, this rougher one, replied: “I will try to explain it for you in a few words define: Chilean, pragmatic, authentic, authoritarian.”
Admiral Merino paints in the garden of his villa. National Audiovisual Institute of France
All these banalities were masterfully portrayed by Berzosa between January and March 1977 in Chile, with freedom of movement and access to sources that can only be explained because the regime felt safe since it was a documentary project of an institutional cultural organization of the best republic. French; and also because in the negotiations over the permits, on paper, Baudis and not Berzosa appeared as director, a ploy to prevent them from examining Berzosa’s CV and seeing that they were essentially giving the green light to an anti-Franco -Red. It would be enough for them to see his film “Arriba España” – to date Berzosa’s best-known work in his country – which was released only two years earlier (1975) and in which he presents a disparaging analysis of the Franco regime in a style which is identical to the one he used for Chile. . “Arriba España is very similar to Impresiones de Chile, only without reaching Franco,” says Luis E. Parés, artistic director of Cineteca Madrid and Berzosa’s greatest scholar. Because in Chile, Berzosa actually reached the top of the dome.
-What is happiness for you? -asks, in this case Baudis, in episode four entitled “Mr. President.”
Pinochet in the garden of his residence with a small grandson in his arms.
“To be able to enjoy these great human aspects,” he answers, sending the baby into the arms of a young woman who is at his side.
Then, in another scene of a formal interview, the dictator switches from a monotone and dull tone to a crocodile-like excitement as Berzosa asks him a political question, and after railing against conservatives and progressives – to him: all communists – he returns suddenly returns to his tone lorazepam mode and says with a very slight, frightening smile: “I don’t want to say more because I don’t like talking about political parties.” He then defines his dictatorship as “an authoritarian democracy” that Chile from communism and left it in “something normal with freedom,” and reiterates that he has no problem “oppressing a tiny number of Chileans” in return for “giving them peace.” the majority to apply “restrictive measures” against “one thousand, two thousand, five thousand or ten thousand” if this would protect the rest, “9,990,000 Chileans,” from communism.
“Compress,” that’s the verb he used.
Berzosa then contrasts the close-up of an elderly woman who says that the police broke into her house and took away her old and sick husband. He says he tried to locate him or at least find out something about him. He pleads, “I want to see him before I die.”
This fourth and final episode ends with the voices of Budis and Berzosa giving the names and ages of the missing people. In the four episodes, the statements of the relatives of the disappeared form a narrative and documentary axis. With these testimonies, Berzosa also counterpoints the portraits of the generals, for example: the monstrosity of their crimes, the crimes they committed at that very moment, was reflected with monstrous comedy in their upper-middle-class life and their hobbies: the love for the policeman Mendoza’s horses , the Japanese nightingale of the aviator, the sailor – as much an admirer of Franco as of American democracy! – on the golf course, surrounded by his staff squeezing his little butt to give a minimal and precise hit to the ball. All of these things happen in Impressions of Chile, intertwined with the close-ups of Chilean women reflecting their tragedy in a kind of copy, because their tragedies were absorbed by the bureaucracy of Pinochetism, by a formal labyrinth of paperwork and entitlements that continues in the same way. And it drifts the same way: into nothingness, into pure death.
A trade unionist at Impressiones de Chile. National Audiovisual Institute of France
Three months was enough for Berzosa and his team. Even to show that even among conservatives and very conservatives there was an awareness – more or less expressed, more or less articulated – that the Chilean democracy defeated by the coup was not a project of red totalitarianism. A military bishop who is very generous in his words about Pinochet – “my general is very simple, very intelligent and a Christian at heart” – says at the same time that during the period of the government of popular unity with Allende the directive regarding The Church was allowed to ” not even touch it with the petal of a rose”. “There was no problem, the number of pastors actually increased,” he says. A landowner and her ex-diplomat husband say on their farm that the agrarian reform – which, by the way, began before Allende – reduced their property, which they didn’t like, but was implemented in a respectful way. To imagine it: perhaps they would feel more comfortable in a democracy that limits their former privileges than in a military dictatorship. The documentary also includes the trade union leader appointed by the regime and the counterpoint to the (real) trade unionists oppressed by the regime. Berzosa asks you if you are aware of the risk you are taking with your interview. It’s natural: full.
He was given three months to enter the meeting room where the Senate functioned and to portray this solemn room with its empty seats, dead in its functions, as the metaphorical corpse of Chilean democracy. The scene is further enriched by the figure of the usher, who tells us with barely suppressed nostalgia what it was like before.
The usher in the Senate chamber, which has been empty and unused since the coup. National Audiovisual Institute of France
All of this – and much more, which can be seen in four hours in four chapters – only became apparent to the Pinochet regime when it was too late. Berzosa’s team returned to Paris, edited the film and there was a press screening before the television premiere. He was a personal guest of the Chilean Embassy. Daniel Berzosa says his father always remembered how there was no shortage of laughter at the demonstration because Pinochetism looked ridiculous and childish – ridiculous and macabre, macabre and ridiculous – and how that infuriated the military attaché at the embassy. The Chilean government even went so far as to use legal means to demand that the documentary be broadcast. But it was broadcast and, as Parés adds, the attempted censorship doubled the public’s interest and contributed to its remarkable success. It was the work that paid tribute to Berzosa, who had already been a star director on French television for years in times of very high-quality television content in France.
Parés considers that Impresiones de Chile represents “the crystallization of all his formal, aesthetic and political searches” in Berzosa’s career. In this documentary, his desire to unite the political cinema of the time with the formal possibilities of the Baroque, so closely linked to Spain’s cultural history and its imperial decline, reaches its climax. Parés began studying Berzosa’s work in 2010 to go beyond what had until then been for him “like a myth that appeared in the footnotes of books on the history of Spanish cinema.” This year, the researcher traveled to Paris to meet and interview the author, while devouring one by one more than a hundred of Berzosa’s films held by the National Audiovisual Institute at the National Library for a month. The expert, who, like Daniel Berzosa, took part in the presentation of Impresiones de Chile at the Reina Sofía, judges that José María Berzosa is a key author who has not yet entered the history of Spanish cinema. He attributes it to “simple ignorance,” to the old disdain for culture made for television, and to the fact that Spanish culture “has always had difficulty taking on the production of exile, perhaps because it has a very territorial vision The head of the museum’s film program, Chema González, hopes that the screening at the Reina Sofía, in the context of the memory of the coup, will help recover Berzosa, a figure who remains “outside the canon” and who, according to Nach With this criterion it is necessary to understand the Spanish line of “heterodox” cinema in which authors such as Albert Serra or Oliver Laxe now find themselves.
Daniel Berzosa says the lack of recognition in Spain hasn’t hurt his father. He says he isn’t too keen on public laurels. “He was a pure intellectual. What mattered to him was the rigor of the argument,” he says.
In an article in El País about his work in 1983, José María Berzosa defined his art in a beautiful and abstract way, “as a certain impression of freedom.” The freedom he found on French television to develop his talent and experiment with it in ways that would not have been possible in his country.
The Reina Sofía Museum held a first screening of the four episodes of Impresiones de Chile between September 11th and 16th. This week he’s doing a second pass. This Friday the 29th, the third episode, “Lucky of the Generals,” will be shown at seven in the afternoon, and on Saturday the 30th, the fourth episode, “Mr. President,” will be shown at the same time. Free admission.
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