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Obstinate Memories: Remembering violence in Patricio Guzmán’s Chile.

Ian Ross
University of Aberdeen
Ian Ross
University of Aberdeen
Open Panel

Abstract

In his three part documentary ‘The Battle of Chile’ (1973-1979) Chilean film director Patricio Guzmán documented the polarisation of Chilean society in the months before the coup d’état on 11th September 1973 that ended Salvador Allende’s socialist government. After some initial efforts to address the politics of memory during the transition, momentum was lost and the country slipped into what Steve Stern termed a ‘memory impasse’. Pinochet, senator for life, remained influential in post-dictatorial politics, arguably limiting the scope of post-dictatorial narratives and implementation of the recommendations of the 1990 truth commission. After ‘The Battle’, his documentary work explores the struggle faced by victims of political violence to remember against other state narratives sympathetic to Pinochet. ‘Obstinate Memories’ (1997) explores the reactions of high school students to ‘The Battle’ as well as protagonists reactions to seeing themselves on screen after two decades. ’The Pinochet Case’ (2001) contrasts the use of transnational law with local grass roots efforts by relatives to find unmarked graves of the disappeared in the Atacama Desert and ’Salvador Allende’ (2004) explores Guzman’s own relationship with the Allende’s Chile. In this paper, drawing on political, sociological and cultural studies, I interrogate the notion that Guzmán’s documentary work challenges the official narratives supporting political consensus favouring political stability over the need for truth and justice. ‘The Battle for Chile’ is both artefact and memory prop for the protagonists and for the post-dictatorship generation in the confrontations between the competing collective memory narratives that Guzmán captures on screen in ’Obstinate Memory’. While in a turn towards the personal, Guzmán’s biography ‘Salvador Allende’ suggests a therapeutic role for documentary through the expression of the director’s sense of loss and mourning for Allende’s Chile, and his identification with themes of exile that dominant cultural memories fail to address.