Director Patricio Guzmán has dedicated his life as a filmmaker to chronicling Chilean history. Documentaries such as The Battle of Chile, Salvador Allende, and his most recent, My Imaginary Country, focus on Chilean politics and the indelible trauma left by the coup d’état that led to the installment of the Pinochet dictatorship—a coup d’état facilitated by the United States. The political Guzmán goes hand in hand with the naturalist Guzmán. Documentaries such as Nostalgia for the Light focus on Chile’s sublime landscape while delivering once more a political message—for Guzmán, the political suffuses into every aspect of life.
The Cordillera of Dreams starts as a meditation on the Andes Mountains. We see majestic overhead shots of the snowcapped mountains accompanied by Guzmán’s soothing narrative voice. This is all reminiscent in style of Warner Herzog’s blending of the natural with the poetic. The difference with Guzmán, and the reason I dare say he is a superior filmmaker, is that while Herzog’s politics exist in the subtext, Guzmán’s are at the center of everything he does. Guzmán’s politics are personal, interpersonal, historical, passionate, and have teeth. For Guzman, politics resides everywhere, from the cracks on the rocks of a mountain, to the cobblestone streets of Santiago, to mining deposits extracted from the mountains, to the very melting snowcaps on said mountains.
The most significant shot in The Cordillera of Dreams is of a fresco mural of the Andean Cordillera in a Santiago subway station. In their rush, not a single commuter stops to appreciate or contemplate the magnificent fresco. The intention here is not to attack the blunted aesthetic sensibilities of the average Chilean. Guzmán’s deeper critique here is of the neoliberal capitalist order’s emphasis on hustle culture and everyday survival.
If your daily experience is one of precarity or hustle and bustle, you don’t have time to appreciate the fresco, the Andes, you don’t have time to reflect on how Chile got to this present moment. You know your history, you know of the hope created by the Allende government, the eventual coup, the economic shock therapy of the Chicago School, the torture and disappearance of dissidents by the Pinochet regime, and finally the daily extraction by multinational corporations of Chile’s copper. But all these things are in the background of your memory and consciousness. You don’t reflect on it too long for the subway is about to get there and you have a deadline to meet at work, or you must figure out how you will scrape by today and eat something.
If the neoliberal order’s aim is to not make you reflect critically on the present moment, then Guzmán’s aim with The Cordillera of Dreams is to remind you of how Chile got here. He interviews visual artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers and has them reflect on the significance of the Andes and the past and current political situation. These interviews contribute to making Cordillera an outstanding piece of filmmaking. The interviewees reflect on everything from the particular smell that is carried by the wind as it sweeps down from the Andes to the changing nature of street protests and the challenges associated with capturing these protests on film.
Anyone that accuses Guzmán of being rambling in Cordillera is not really paying attention to the nature of his lifelong filmmaking project. There’s a connection between the rattling caused by plate tectonic shifts and that of tanks rolling through Santiago’s streets. Guzman’s message is clear: Chile has been shaken by both volcanic eruptions and coup d’états. The natural world and the political are indeed intertwined.
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