My Imaginary Country


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

My Imaginary Country
"Guzmán doesn’t need to hunt for symbolism as the protesters are often supplying their own." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Chilean documentarian Patricio Guzmán has long been a chronicler of his homeland, often connecting the ancient and the modern in ways that have explored the country’s struggles with dictatorship and democracy. His latest reflects the energy of young protesters as they began what he describes as “an unexpected revolution” in 2019 and looks as much into the future as the past.

The trigger for an uprising of demonstrations and civil disobedience was, Guzmán tells us - as part of his intermittent, measured narration - triggered by a 30 peso price hike in subway fares. This may have been the spark but it was a long ignored network of inequalities and grievances which sprang alight from it and led to mass protests in Santiago.

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Guzmán’s films, including Nostalgia For The Light and The Pearl Button, often offer up long, poetic extended metaphors that reflect on the state of Chile but here, although flourishes of this remain, he instead harnesses the immediacy of the protests to strong effect. He has always had an eye for the contrast between big and small and here shows how a multitude of single stones become both an armory and an orchestra when employed by the demonstrators, not just used to fling at the highly politicised police but also to bang out a rhythm of protest on metal.

This marriage of violence and creativity runs through his film, which also shows how these demonstrators came together not under a political banner but something more fluid and, perhaps, more hopeful. A movement driven mainly by younger women, Guzmán captures a chorus of female voices, both young and old. One, triggered by the typically observant director’s reference to flowers on the hood she wears to protest, talks about how she has “blossomed” with the revolt; others articulate some of the many patriarchal aggressions the country has faced. Guzmán doesn’t need to hunt for symbolism as the protesters are often supplying their own. It’s there in a crowd of women silently covering one eye in defiance over the brutal police tactics that have blinded many demonstrators, brought home by a photojournalist who talks about the loss of her vision as she documented a protest. And it’s equally present in mass ‘performances’ of a poem that brands the nation’s many oppressors - from government to police - as rapists.

Drone shots take us high above the crowds, to give us an enormity of the scale of protest but equally important is the way that Guzmán lets a masked woman’s eyes defiantly fill his frame. Unlike many films charting waves of protest, this one has a hopeful sweep, with the prospect of a new progressive constitution within touching distance even if the rejection of the first attempt last year, suggests there are still plenty of those stones on the road ahead.

Reviewed on: 07 Jun 2023
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My Imaginary Country packshot
Protests that exploded onto the streets of Chile's capital of Santiago in 2019 as the population demanded more democracy and social equality around education, healthcare and job opportunities.
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Director: Patricio Guzmán

Writer: Patricio Guzmán

Year: 2022

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Chile

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