My Imaginary Country review – thrilling scenes from Chile’s subway revolution

Patricio Guzmán’s staggering documentary examines popular protest that swept through Chile in 2019, when hundreds of thousands of people – chiefly young women – took to the streets of Santiago

The 100th birthday of Henry Kissinger makes this a gruesomely appropriate moment to see the latest movie from Chilean film-maker Patricio Guzmán, about the rage-filled public estallido, or “outburst”, in 2019: the giant protest about inequality and injustice, triggered by a price increase on the subway, that finally forced a change of government in the country.

Guzmán has documented Chile’s trials since the 1973 coup (encouraged by Kissinger) which unseated the democratically elected Salvador Allende and installed the brutally oppressive client-state rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet, whose eventual departure in 1990 heralded a supposed transition – or transition back – to democracy but actually left the country in an agonised state of denial about the tyranny in which so many had been complicit. This is an ordeal only just coming to an end, and Guzmán’s movies about Chile’s dark night of the national soul in this era have had a fierce poetry, through documentaries such as Nostalgia for the Light in 2010 and The Cordillera of Dreams in 2019.

With his new film he in some sense breaks free from that longing, that wistful poignancy, to talk directly to and about the protesters who have actually hit back. You can feel how awed Guzmán is by these young people – chiefly, in fact, young women – and the vast populist force they summoned up. A drone shot of the hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets of Santiago really is staggering. The Cordillera, the Andean mountain range that was the subject of Guzmán’s meditation on the timeless vastness of nature in The Cordillera of Dreams, now supplies the very specific rocks which protesters are throwing at the armoured cars. This movie supplies a moving endpoint to the tragic sequence of work which Guzmán has created.

• My Imaginary Country is released on 9 June in UK cinemas


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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