Bandits, music, and dark history hit Cine Chile

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In cinema, as in other areas of South American life, Chile usually runs third to its two powerhouse neighbours, Brazil and Argentina. That’s been changing, though, as demonstrated in the five films chosen for Cine Chile 2012, a minifestival running Friday to Thursday (November 30 to December 6) at the Vancity Theatre.

“There is a strong trend for the government to support the young filmmakers and more creativity in general,” explains Waldo Brino, the fest’s Chilean-born founder and general director, calling from his Vancouver home. “There’s also more connection with other countries in Latin America and Europe—Spain, especially, but also Eastern Europe. You still can’t compare the size of the film industry to those in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. But for a country of just 50 million, it’s significant.”

To that end, the fest is bringing industry guests to Vancouver. There is a long-standing, yet dormant coproduction arrangement between Chile and Canada, and Brino hopes to foster more connections here, as the few that have developed have been in Toronto and Montreal.

“That’s one reason I want to see Chilean producers meet their counterparts here.”

Hopefully, any stray Canadian filmmaker wouldn’t run into the troubles encountered by the main character in Salt. The film, screening here December 2 and 6, is about a Spanish director (Spain’s Fele Martinez, best known for his lead role in Lovers of the Arctic Circle) who arrives in Chile’s fantastically bleak northern desert with intentions to shoot the story of a notorious bandit. For some reason, local tough guys (and some hot chicas) decide that the foreign visitor is their missing nemesis.

“What’s really interesting,” the fest honcho says, “is the landscape. It’s the harshest desert in the world, hot during the day and cold at night. It’s one of the most isolated parts of the world, and you wonder, ‘How can people live there?’ The musical ambience is particularly strong.”

Musical truths are crucial to Brino, who earlier this year brought to town the Chilean group Inti-Illimani, an outfit he even managed for a few years in the ’90s. His interest in Chilean music, and politics, is reflected in Violeta Went to Heaven (November 30 and December 3), a sweeping, if sometimes stiffly didactic, look at the potent singer Violeta Parra, who left a lasting impression on the country’s left-leaning artistic culture but managed to check out before seeing the nightmare that came with Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s brutal coup in 1973.

The nation is still feeling that top-down violence, which began to wane with events captured in No, opening early next year. The personal, political, and cruelly historical meet here in more subterranean forms.

The Year of the Tiger (December 6) follows a man who escapes prison during the devastating 2010 earthquake and goes home to find rubble, both real and metaphorical. In Roman’s Circuit (December 3), a neurological scientist comes up with a new theory of how memory does, and doesn’t, work while wrestling with some of his more corrupt impulses—both crucial topics in a young democracy coping with 17 years of totalitarian rule during which as many as 50,000 Chileans were jailed, tortured, killed, “disappeared”, or forcibly exiled.

The film most apparently (if still somewhat cryptically) contemplating Chile’s present-day relationship with Latin America is Ulysses (December 2). A directorial debut for veteran TV maker Oscar Godoy, the film centres on a Peruvian teacher (charismatic Argentinian Jorge Román) who starts over—at the very bottom—in Santiago, for reasons that mostly remain mysterious.

“For many years now, Chile has been seen as one of the most stable countries in the region,” Brino asserts. “And that has promoted a lot of immigration from other countries. You had people from Europe going there before and after the Second World War. But now there are huge Bolivian and Peruvian communities, for example, and everyone eventually ends up in Santiago. It’s an issue as to how people accept the weaker members of society. We felt especially good about this movie because it relates to the way many people have come to Canada and adjusted themselves to this strange new world.”

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