“Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!
These are my last words, and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in vain, I am certain that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice, and treason.”
President Salvador Guillermo Allende’s last speech — Santiago de Chile, 11 September 1973
I’ll admit straight away, I’m partial to Nanni Moretti’s art. I adore his style and his films have inspired various stages of my life. In fact, I find myself reconnected to my Italian roots so deeply thanks to him.
But I did go to watch his latest, the documentary ‘Santiago, Italia’ with a grain of skepticism. I mean, Moretti proved he’s capable of making a kind of documentary many years ago, in 1998 to be exact, with the reality based ‘Aprile’. But could he hold my interest for 80 minutes with an archival based film about the coup in Chile, the original horrors of a September 11th which came long before our US one, and left the fairly elected president of the country dead, with many more tortured and missing?
The short answer is yes. Damn yes!
Moretti doesn’t shy away from the talking-heads set up of his film, nor does he pretend that he’s hiding behind the camera. At one point, perfectly proving at once the skill of his cinematography, the beauty of his colorist’s work and the indispensability of his presence, the filmmaker steps in front of the camera with an ex military. “I only agreed to do this because I thought it was going to be an impartial interview,” the military man says, I paraphrase a bit. “I’m not impartial,” weighs in Moretti, in his trademark voice, saying it twice, with a smirk and looking towards the camera. It’s a much needed interference at that point, bringing some relief to us, audience members who had to endure the manipulatory recounting of the military man, now in jail for his crimes.
Moretti does this, from time to time. He booms in with his comments, and becomes our Charon, the Caronte on this river Styx of injustice and oppression that is the history of modern Chile.
The preface of ‘Santiago, Italia’ begins with images of President Allende’s win from a democratically held election in Chile. It’s all fair and square, except that other countries like the United States of America, don’t like that a country as big as Chile has just voted for a Communist government. This, lets not forget, was deep in the years of the “Red Threat” and what I like to think of the start of America’s “Babysitting Complex” when US troops and money went around the world to save people from themselves. In fact, now that our less than perfect President is weaning us away from that policy, everyone is having a fit about it. Like properly trained kindergartners would…
But back to Moretti’s film.
Along with archival footage of Allende and the coup, the bombing of La Moneda, the presidential palace by Junta forces supported by the CIA, and Chilean citizen from both sides of politics recounting the ordeal, Moretti mixes in interviews with those who left a war-zone Santiago for the safety of Italy. Through a very improvised campaign in fact, the Italian embassy in Santiago played a pivotal role in the asylum seeking effort of those then persecuted by the new General Pinochet regime. And in their safe transfer to Italy, where now those Chileans and their offsprings have created a community, mostly in the region of Emilia Romagna. Emilia, in the early Seventies, was called “Emilia Rossa” — red Emilia because of its leftist voting power. And beliefs. A natural home for the persecuted Allende supporters.
Personally, I have tried to steer clear of politics as much as possible in my own life. Yet Moretti’s film brought me wholeheartedly into the eternal conflict between the human-based Marxist ideals, in their purest form, and the threatening forces of the extreme Right which always seem to yearn to separate us as a human race.
I cheered, I laughed and at times, I cried. Like when a man describing how a Catholic cardinal tried to shelter people from the horrors of the infamous Villa Grimaldi, he himself breaks down and Moretti, off-camera asks “why are you breaking down? Why now, when you speak of this man?” And the man, still in tears replies because, “he was what a cardinal is supposed to be.”
Lastly, I’d like to point out that I watched ‘Santiago, Italia’ at Moretti’s own cinema in Rome, the Nuovo Sacher and the big screen aided in immersing me completely in the story, its images and the haunting mastery of Moretti’s filmmaking. The color grading on the film alone is something magical but you’ll have to watch the film yourself to understand.
“Maybe Netflix will buy it one day,” as friend and filmmaker Basil Khalil wrote back when I enthusiastically messaged him about the film. Inshallah, because it truly is the stuff cinematic dreams are made of.