Documentary film-maker Patricio Guzmán returns to his great and tragic theme of exile – from his Chilean homeland, from his past, from a world that made a certain sort of sense before the brutal 1973 coup which unseated Salvador Allende and introduced a military despotism whose ugly consequences have never been resolved there. Like his 2012 film Nostalgia for the Light, which reflected on the vast beauty of the Atacama desert in central Chile and thegreat Paranal observatory, contrasted with the shabby dishonour of 73, The Cordillera of Dreams again finds the film-maker juxtaposing the historical chaos and despair with the eternal beauty and mystery of the landscape: in this case, the awe-inspiring “cordillera” or Andean mountain range that surrounds his home town of Santiago.
Guzmán fled Chile soon after the coup and the cordillera’s vastness haunts his dreams and those of the many Chileans he interviews: artists, writers, scientists. Is its colossal unchangingness reassuring, or disturbing? Does it make Chileans’ human pain and injustice look irrelevant? Just as Paul Robeson’s Ol’ Man River just keeps on rolling along in the midst of racism and slavery, the cordillera just stands there in geological time, for hundreds of thousands of years, indifferent to the minuscule reversals of human history.
Yet Guzmán finds in the cordillera something inspiring and energising: a thread of beauty and romance which energises him. He speaks to people in Chile who have kept the faith, including film-maker Pablo Salas, whose filming over 40 years has accumulated a vital archive of the people’s resistance to oppression, inhumanity and mediocrity. Guzmán is reticent on the subject of US involvement in the coup; I’d like to see him confront Henry Kissinger. This is rich and valuable testament to Chilean courage.
• The Cordillera of Dreams is released on 7 October in cinemas.