Review: It’s Raining in Santiago

[Originally published in Movietone News 55, September 1977]

A Franco-Bulgarian coproduction with Bulgaria standing in for Chilean locations, It’s Raining in Santiago seeks to reenact key events in the September 11, 1973, overthrow of the Allende regime, at the same time filling in crucial background from the time of Allende’s election as president several years before and, finally, taking a few glimpses at post-Allende Chile. Helvio Soto’s primary model is conspicuously, and understandably, Costa-Gavras. Like Costa-Gavras, Soto does not shrink from exploiting the turn-on value of high-octane melodramatic narrative in the interest of leftwing point-making. Like him, too, he keeps his camera, his cast, or both in motion as much as possible, knowing that at some primal, Panofskyan level this is satisfying to the moviewatcher who might otherwise be indisposed to sit still for either detailed exposition or political editorializing. His correct-minded good guys—notably Laurent Terzieff as a French correspondent, Ricardo Cucciolla (Vanzetti of Sacco and) as a Chilean newscaster turned presidential adviser, Maurice Garrel (the gaunt guerrilla veteran of Chabrol’s Nada) as a proletarian Allende man, and Jean-Louis Trintignant as a socialist senator—are uncomplicatedly swell, sensitive, family-, friend- and music-loving folks; the leftist students have long hair but are clearly very well-washed; the militarist/bourgeois/corporate bad guys display not a glimmer of wit, originality, or subtlety (let alone the troublingly appealing ambiguity of Yves Montand’s pig-in-the-terrorist-poke in State of Siege, or even Marcel Bozzuffi’s dopey enthusiasm as the homosexual hitman in Z). Hence, even as “a John Wayne entertainment for the Left” (Costa-Gavras’ phrase), It’s Raining in Santiago soon begins to pall.

Soto’s narration isn’t nearly as surehanded as his master’s; it’s often hard to be sure when we have jumped into or out of flashback, and some of the camera-twitching is just gratuitous. An inadvertent byproduct of the recent Hanafi Muslim protest against the new Mohammed movie is the viewer’s acute awareness that the camera avoids showing Salvador Allende as much as possible (Bulgarian actor Matcho Petrov stands in in a few back-of-the-head, hand-on-the-desk shots), so that he comes to seem less a martyred political leader than a betrayed deity. The U.S. role in the coup is not harped on, although this muting may be due in part to a general garbling of specific factional motivations among those plotting the overthrow (in a moment worthy of the lowliest Fu Manchu flick, ITT/CIA man John Abbey positively leers into the telephone and assures his contact “Oh, yeah, I know what the plan is if Allende wins!” on election night). Aside from its laudable intentions to note that something pretty awful happened down there in Chile in 1973, the film’s noblest claim on our attention is a sporadically acute sense of the sort of shock one must experience to come awake on a gorgeous-looking morning and find that the town, the country, and the world around one is being changed utterly, and there’s nothing one can do about it; indeed, there’s virtually nothing one can do at all.

RTJ

IT’S RAINING IN SANTIAGO
Screenplay and direction: Helvio Soto. Adaptation: Soto and Georges Conchon; dialogue: Conchon. Cinematography: Georges Barsky. Production: Jacques Charrier.
The players (in alphabetical order): John Abbey, Bibi Andersson, Ricardo Cucciolla, Vera Dikova, André Dussollier, Bernard Fresson, Maurice Garrel, Annie Girardot, Patricia Guzman, Serge Marquand, Henri Poirier, Laurent Terzieff, Nicola Todef, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Costa Tzonef.

© 1977 Richard T. Jameson

A pdf of the original issue can be found here.