Chile — 'My imaginary country'

October 25, 2022
Still from 'My Imaginary Country' by Patricio Guzman
A scene in Dignity Square from 'My Imaginary Country' by Patricio Guzman. Photo: IMDB

My Imaginary Country
A film by Patricio Guzman
Antenna Documentary Film Festival
October 2022

First impressions — immediately after seeing the film:

Witnessing a second Chilean revolution in the making. A flame that slowly became a fire. The government’s weapons: oppression, state violence, tanks, water cannons, teargas, guns — 400 demonstrators lost an eye — arrests and killings. The people’s weapons: stones, saucepans, placards, poems, drums, indignation, solidarity, refusal to pay comply conform obey be silent, 30 years of waking up. President Salvador Allende is seen in a few flashback images from filmmaker Patricio Guzman’s earlier documentaries, like The Battle of Chile (1975).

The interviewees in the film are all women. Of all backgrounds and ages: a single mum, a first-aid worker, a filmmaker, a psychologist, various academics, students, a grandmother and many more. All are feminists. Most of them are activists. It was a deliberate choice by Patricio Guzman, in recognition that much of the driving force for the continuous uprisings was fuelled by the women of Chile — by their pain, their rage, their “Enough”.

Men feature as active participants in the massive rallies, in the fights against the police and the military. But the women tell the stories and give the perspectives. They are given the voice. They are the voice, the soul of the protests — for themselves, their children, their men, the people.

Guzman’s own voice is heard from time to time as the narrator, asking questions, making the occasional comment, and sporadically sharing reflections on his memories, hopes and fears.

Another male voice is that of newly-elected 35-year-old President Gabriel Boric, when he thanks the people, and particularly the women, whose vote made his electoral victory possible in March this year. He talks about their hard-won rights: to vote and to have control over their own bodies. He commits himself immediately to protecting those rights, and to ending their suffering.

The only other male voice in the film is that of the now ex-President Sebastian Pinera, condemning the protests with disgust.

These last two voices are heard in short snippets taken from news reels, whereas the interviewees are given much more time to make their points.

At the time of the demonstrations, four young feminist theatre-makers wrote a campaign poem in which, as Guzman says, “every Chilean woman could recognise herself”. It was chanted en masse during the protests. It was also enthusiastically picked up as a new feminist anthem in 52 countries. Footage of its fiery performance was a climactic moment in the film:

Patriarchy is our judge
That imprisons us at birth

And our punishment
Is the violence you DON’T see
Is the violence you CAN see
It is femicide
Impunity for my killer
It’s our disappearances
It is rape!
And it's not my fault
And it’s not where I was
And it’s not how I dressed
And the rapist WAS you
And the rapist IS you
It’s the cops
It’s the judges
It’s the system
It’s the president
This oppressive state is a macho rapist!

Boric, a former student leader, has been a member of parliament since 2018 and was one of the politicians paving the way for a referendum on the constitution. It was not mandatory to vote. Just 50% of the people came out to cast their vote, and 80% said YES.

When the convention to write a new constitution assembled in the old parliament house, it was presided over by Mapuche elder Elisa Loncon, the first Indigenous person to ever fulfill such a role.

She listed the essentials that would make up the constitution’s scaffolding: It would establish ecological and socio-cultural rights. It would eliminate exploitation, discrimination and racism. It would be pluralistic, emancipative, representative of all, and would secure gender equality and the implementation of all human rights, in a democratic way, based on true equality.

Second impressions — after updating myself on Chile’s current political situation:

The last woman interviewed in the film was on the committee to rewrite the constitution. She said: “It would be disastrous if the new constitution would be rejected and the old one [established by former dictator Augusto Pinochet] maintained. It would be fatal if the neo-liberalist far right would retake power.”

A second referendum was held to decide the fate of the new draft constitution. Voting was mandatory this time, and resulted in a NO vote of 62% to 38%.

It was seen as too radical and not realistic. The majority of Chileans apparently felt uncomfortable about its pluralism, and the sudden prominence of Indigenous rights (see recent articles in Green Left covering this outcome and analysing the role of the far right, money and the media, in sowing disinformation).

Unfortunately, the documentary does not cover the second plebiscite, since it stops before it took place in September, leaving the viewer in suspense, and the film with a sense of incompleteness.

Boric has promised he will ensure a new convention is formed to have a second attempt at drafting a new constitution.

Third impressions — after a little more reflection:

Some interviewees talked about a new phenomenon: Most activists don’t align themselves with any political party or ideology. They don’t have charismatic leaders, and are self-organised.

A statue of General Baquedano on horseback normally stands on Santiago’s main square — renamed Dignity Square by the protesters. It was painted red by demonstrators as a symbol of the blood spilled in the rallies. The statue was cleaned and removed by the military to keep it safe. They even surrounded the empty pedestal with a wall. The protesters promptly took down that wall — another peak moment in the film.

Guzman has had no direct involvement in this second revolution, whereas he was involved in the first and was imprisoned by Pinochet’s military regime in the notorious stadium in Santiago, and spent many years from then on abroad, living in France. As such, his film comes across as if from a distance, even nostalgic, and perhaps too much as a wistful dream. Hence the telling adjective in the title: My Imaginary Country.

Other than the brutal actions of the military and the cops, the film does not feature anyone on the side of the status quo, the patriarchy, the establishment or the institutions. Nor does the film show enough political context and detail from which the revolts arose.

Overall it has a sketchy feel, using a combination of Guzman’s own footage and that from other sources. Guzman’s reflections, and his emphasis on the female voice, create an expectation of inevitability and consensus towards change. Many of the interviewees repeatedly and emphatically say: “There is no going back.”

If Guzman is right, the women of Chile will make sure that hope stays alive, that it will triumph, and that it is real. May the people — and the millions of predominantly young Chilean men and women who put their lives on the line — have the last word.

[Watch the trailer with English subtitles here.]

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