Cordillera of Dreams Artful Dive into Chilean Identity. By Brandon Topp.
Cordillera of Dreams is the first Patricio Guzman film I’ve ever seen, which is a backwards introduction to the Chilean documentarian’s rich list of films.
On the one hand, he made his mark with the expansive and groundbreaking film series The Battle of Chile, which The Hollywood Reporter says, “Made him synonymous with political filmmaking in Latin America.” Additionally, this film I just watched is the cap on a trilogy, which began with Nostalgia for the Light, and The Pearl Button.
While my lack of context is doubtfully recommended, the positive thing that comes from it, is that I can say with fresh eyes that Cordillera of Dreams is a striking work, and it gave me as an outsider what feels like a wholesome sense of Chile’s complicated, yet interconnected identity. The most interesting and creative move by Guzmen throughout the documentary is his use of parallels.
From the outset, we spend time drifting through the sky overlooking the cordillera—a term that carries a broad definition in the film, and is even explicitly said to transcend definition. Most simply described as the mountainous regions of the Andes, the cordillera represents both Chile’s most breathtaking beauty, and its most enduring struggles.
Guzman not only shows is these epic visual portrayals of the mountainous snowy wilderness, he also educates the viewer on how many of these magical natural locations are inaccessible to the people due to privatization. That conversation leads into the country’s wealth gap, which the filmmaker explores by looking back to the 1973 coup, and Pinochet’s lasting influence in the decades since.
The approach comes full circle drawing numerous parallels. For example, the film mirrors the bubbling discontent of the Chilean people over decades with mesmerizing and powerful volcanic eruptions in the cordillera. It also makes note of a 20,000 year history of native Chileans, and how their history and culture is embedded into the rocks of the mountains. The intertwining themes of culture and nature play off one another with systematic poetry.
The most impressive instance of this cinematic use of metaphor and physical relationship inside the country draws a map from the stones of the Andes mountains to the value of recording of Chilean history. Including footage from The Battle of Chile, alongside interviews and clips with documentarian Pablo Salas—a collaborator of Guzman’s when they were filming the Chilean revolution—it becomes clear that capturing these moments, and recording the country’s history is a vital part of its evolution from tyranny.
Guzman also makes note of how he believes the mountains overlooking the country remember its history. He tracks how stone from the mountains has been used to create walkways and streets in Santiago, and throughout the country. He talks about how the stones will always remember the blood that was spilled on them during the country’s most tumultuous times.
The film is showing at as intense a time as any, as Chile has been rife with protests and frightening government crackdowns lately. The citizens are fighting the wealth inequality, and demanding large-scale systematic changes, which are major themes of Cordillera of Dreams. Recently, Santaigo saw the country’s largest protest in history with around 1.2 million people participating. There have been reports of human rights violations and homicides by law enforcement. It’s very real, and emblematic of similar struggles of political power taking place around the world today.
I’m not an expert on the situation, but Guzman’s film, though a late addition to a series of many that seem to have done so, seems to give a wholesome perspective on how this vibrant country has been fighting to preserve itself for generations. It’s visually magnificent, educational, and a worthy watch for all those capturing the real-time unfolding of the next chapter in Chile’s history.
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