Chilean Cinema 2013 #26: Calafate, zoológicos humanos (2010)

(Chile 2010 90m) Cineteca Nacional

p Margarita Ortega d/w Hans Mülchi c/ed Enrique Ramírez s Subhira

Part educative film, part historical document, part political statement, pure emotion. I really can’t remember a documentary, either from Chile or other part of the world, that managed to enrage me and fill me with emotions at the same time. It almost made me cry (thank God it didn’t, that would mean that it would have to be my favorite movie of all time, and who could really believe me on that?), and I’m not ashamed to say so, because this film deserves to be seen. The showing I attended was packed, people had to sit in small boxes in the rows for them to be able to watch the screen and what was going on there. I had my reservations when the movie started, it was at times way too similar to a television documentary that would take a normal approach towards a historical subject and have experts interviewed and talk about how important the thing they are documenting really is. But then, something surprised me, the documentary actually had a great production value: the first segment talks about a first group of native indigenes of Chile that were brought from the Patagonia to Europe, and we not only are told the story of the mastermind behind the plan, as well as the documents that could be recalled from that time (late 1890’s) but also the director and some experts of the field are seen visiting the places where these indigenes might’ve been held in jails and put to exhibition as if they were animals, all this intercut with interviews with foreign experts from all over the world that trie to bring some light into the thinking of the people at that time and to how important and at the same time dreadful was the exhibition of human beings really was.

Though the film evolves from that, as in an accident, we see an interesting exercise of the visual and narrative form. We begin the second segment with a second batch of indigenes that were brought from the Patagonia to Europe and were toured around, most of them fell sick and died in the constant travelling. Then, we start seeing a rough cut of the documentary being shown to the latest descendants from that indigene tribe, they are seeing the official information and investigation for the first time in their lives, they have vivid memories of how their grand-grandparents told them that the white man could come to get them and they would never be seen again, and also about how one of their own familiars might’ve been among the dead. We see the emotion in their faces, and as we hear how they were treated, how their sickness (STDs included) started to spread and kill the whole group. It’s sad and you can feel the impotence that the director, filmmakers and descendants feel when they discover that there are two bodies of the indigenes resting in the basement of one of the most important Biologic Universities of Germany, the last resting place of most of the members of the group. The idea that the resting corpses of the indigenes might go back to Chile is given, though not answered until later. And here comes the weakest yet the most investigated of the segments, the one that gives the name to the documentary, about the Selk’nam, a mysterious and really interesting race/tribe of indigenes that painted their bodies and faces to resemble horrible nightmarish creatures.

Calafate was a boy when he was taken from the Patagonia and left to wonder in Europe with the rest of the group in the itinerary human zoo, and then when they were deported back to Chile he became sort of famous, because he was ‘civilized’ and could survive the war with the colons that would come to reclaim their land. While the story is interesting and is well documented, it’s far from being the most interesting thread of the film, but it seems as if they had a compromise with the title, as we see afterwards. The final half hour of the movie is about how the director, the academics of the University and the descendants of the indigenes try to bring the bodies of the deceased into Chile for them to be finally buried in the Patagonia, where they should’ve been all the time. That’s where we enter the most emotional moments of the documentary, where the fight is not only a issue of respect and culture, but also political, we see an appeareance of the president of Chile at that time, Michelle Bachelet Jeria, and how her acting in these events was part efficient and ridiculous at times, as she was able to ask for forgiveness (in behalf of the Government of Chile) of any possible damage that was done to the indigene tribes (a document was discovered where this kidnapping of the indigenes was aprooved by one of the ministeries), yet the ceremony of the receivement of the bodies is so political and used for an image cleansing that is actually disgusting to watch at times. Maybe the most impressive and mournful moments is when the film reproduces the chain of emails between the government officials and one of the academics of the university. It hurts. There’s a debt in Chile towards its indigenous tribes, and we ought to make something out of this documentary, might this be a lesson, but also a reminder that there’s a lot more to solve and see here in this Chile of ours. We need justice.



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