No, the final film in Pablo Larrain’s trilogy of life in Chiule under Pinochet, appropriately enough takes on the end of Pinochet’s reign via the 1988 plebiscite vote that he arranged to “legitimize” his regime to the world. Chileans assumed it was a sham, a public display of democracy with Pinochet stacking the deck with a weighted election: vote “Yes” and maintain a known stability rather than the great unknown of civil rights. But to give the election the illusion of a level playing field, the government gave the opposition 15 minutes a night to make its case. Gael Garcia Bernal’s modern advertising phenom René Saavedra, the film’s ostensible hero, is a composite of numerous real-life figures, but his challenge was the same: he had to convince the opposition not to run a litany of Pinochet’s crimes. What they did with the time utterly befuddled the government spin doctors: they sold the “No” campaign and the idea of democratic as a product, packaged with humor, color, idealized images, and the feel-good attitude of a soft-drink commercial.
Larrain shot his dramatization of the real-life campaign on U-matic video (the ¾ inch broadcast tape standard of the eighties) which gives his film a strange, washed out quality, like a manufactured time capsule of an era. And while it’s nowhere as dark as his previous films, an atmosphere of intimidation hangs over the characters. These shadows of fear really communicate how and why Pinochet was convinced that he would win the vote regardless of the opposition, and it makes their triumph all the more satisfying. René is no idealist, he’s a pragmatist, and his appropriation of corporate advertising techniques to sell a revolution and depose a dictator has a delicious sting of irony. It was one of the five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the last Academy Awards. Guild 45.
Christian Mungiu’s Beyond The Hills continues his exploration of the shadows of the past over Romania in the 21st century, but this time he steps sidewasy from the post-Soviet critiques of Cristi Puiu, Corneliu Porumboiu, and his own previous films to take on religious superstition. In a secluded Orthodox monastery, a former member of the community returns from the city to take the girl she loves out this cloistered bubble and into the world. She’s a troubled girl, to be sure, and becomes so unmanageable by the (almost entirely female) population of this retreat that she’s branded possessed and put to an exorcism. This isn’t the spiritual mumbo-jumbo of the recent rash of American possession movies, which play on demonic possession as an unfathomable horror. The “good intentions” of the flock are taken as serious concern for a suffering young woman rather than the hysterical old-world response to a medical / psychological problem. Or are they? There’s plenty to wonder about in this community, where all the women call the spiritual leader “Papa” and their commitment to the faith is as much comfort in a community where at least they can count on a place to sleep and regular meals (it’s a tough world out there). But Mungiu never suggests there’s anything untoward in the holy father’s behavior, at least until he agrees to an exorcism that he doesn’t really believe in. At that point, conviction and responsibility get a lot more complicated, and judgment isn’t so simple. Seven Gables.
Up From Poppy Hill, an animated film directed by Goro Miyazaki and produced and co-scripted by his father, animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, opens at the Egyptian in an English-language edition. I review it for Seattle Weekly.