by Jaime Grijalba.
Hello people interested in foreign cinema, sad Chilean directors looking at other’s people’s opinions and all readers alike. Welcome to the 2016 edition of my list of the Chilean films that were released in Chilean theaters. There were 46 Chilean films that had a commercial distribution during last year, and I had the mission of seeing all of them. Because of many reasons, I was only able to watch 44 (not too shabby, but still, last year I only managed to miss one). The films that I missed were: Talión (Talion, 2015, Martín Tuta) and Prueba de Actitud (Attitude Test, 2016, Fabrizio Copano, Augusto Matte).
Now, you shouldn’t look at this list as a series of recommendations, especially since most of these films are not really worth seeing (and those that I do recommend would be obvious from the brief blurbs that I write, and the placing that they get), but more like a glimpse into the hand that we’re dealt with, to the existence of tremendous variety of styles, genres and types of films that are being made right now in my home country, as well as a look into the mind of someone who wants to see it all, manages to, and what he comes away with. I am a damaged man due to my constant urge to see every Chilean release, and this article is my healing process: here I can rage and mock and do everything that I wish I could do the rest of the year.
Without much else to add, I give you the list, from worst to best, of all the 43 films that I managed to see from the 46 Chilean films that were released in Chilean theaters in 2016:
44. Argentino QL (Argentinian QL) (2016, Pato Pimienta)
Certainly one of the worst films that I’ve seen in a while, Chilean or not, and my choice for the worst one that was released commercially last year in Chile. Xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, fascist and all that under the guise of a “comedy” that isn’t able to make a joke without making fun of, for example, fat people. An absolutely disgusting excuse of a film.
43. Silo, un camino espiritual (Silo, a spiritual path) (2015, Pablo Lavín)
A ‘documentary’ that serves more as a propagandistic hagiography of the controversial figure of Silo, a man whose anticommunist antiviolence ideology moved hundreds of young people from Latin America. This film spends no time with the multiple accusations of fraud, assault and a wide assort of crimes that Silo was accused of. The worst kind of documentary.
42. El Mal Trato (The Bad Treatment) (2015, Daniel Vivanco)
The worst kind of false equivalence: “men are victims of violence from their spouses”. It would be an interesting subject to tackle on a film if it didn’t feature some of the worst acting that I’ve seen in a film in years, and if it didn’t turn into some sort of gory revenge film, where the actions of the man are justified because he was hit by his wife.
41. Hamule, la memoria del exilio (Hamule, the memory of exile) (2015, Mauricio Misle)
A documentary about the first Palestinian refugees that arrived to Chile and formed the strong and culturally aware community that exists until this day, but lamentably it features the testimony of odious misogynistic people, and the conflict between Israel and Palestine is reduced, without giving it the profundity it needs.
40. Viejos amores (Old loves) (2016, Gloria Laso)
Unusually, there’s a bunch of documentaries piled up in the last places, but it was a really weak year for them in general, especially for me since I consider documentary filmmaking the strong point of Chile. This one is just boring; it’s a recollection of interviews with old actresses about their craft and how they fell in love. No depth. A TV special.
39. Los Elefantes No Pueden Saltar (Elephants Can’t Jump) (2016, Rodrigo Saez Molina, María Martínez-Conde Fabry)
Another documentary, this time about the industry of the use and abuse of elephants in India, directed by two Chilean video-makers. I doubt to call them filmmakers, because they are either activists or journalists, which filmed a lot of footage and condensed into this only sometimes interesting TV reportage that barely qualifies as a film. Why was this released?
38. Como Bombo en Fiesta (Like Bombo in a Party) (2016, Robert Díaz)
Not as catastrophic as I thought it would be, but still pretty bad. I don’t know what is behind these films done by comedians that triumph at the Festival de Viña, which is a music festival that has some comedians sometimes. This is just fairly incompetent from the standpoint of what an actual funny movie should be, and while I laughed a couple of times, everything else is a disservice, plotted with an unconventional unlikable protagonist, a structure that doesn’t make sense and the sensation that this was made without a fixed script and was mostly made up in the spot.
- Sin Filtro (No Filter) (2016, Nicolás López)
The most successful Chilean film in terms of box office is one of the best films that Nicolás López has ever done, but it’s only because he has managed to capture some sort of editing rhythm that isn’t actively annoying but only just stressfully unemotional. This film about a woman that learns to talk her mind over repressing herself has some interesting moments, but it still is a Nicolás López film: unfunny, misogynistic (shit, third time I’ve used that word in this list, sorry, but it’s the reality of my country, shit), annoying, badly acted and just plain boring when it comes to the reality that it purports to represent.
- El Tila: Fragmentos de un psicópata (El Tila: Fragments of a psychopath) (2015, Alejandro Torres)
Based on the real news event of one of the most striking psychopaths in the history of Chile, this ugly film doesn’t manage to put any reason as to why it was made beyond the detained attention to reframing some of the crimes of ‘El Tila’. It tries hard to search for reasons, showing flashbacks to his childhood, but it never achieves any sort of revelation. Only the main performance holds some interest, due to its madness.
- Alas de mar (Sea Wings) (2016, Hans Mülchi)
One of the best Chilean films of the new decade was Calafates, zoológicos humanos (2010) directed by the same director of this sequel of sorts, that continues the emotional travel of one of the indigene tribes of Chile, the kaweskar, that had a history of extermination by Europeans first and Chileans later. This one doesn’t conjure as much emotions, and it doesn’t seem to have a fix point except to capitalize on the interesting characters of the first documentary.
- Joselito (2014, Bárbara Pestán Florás)
Filmed in one of the most beautiful places of Chile, Chiloé, this film portrays a father-son relationship that turns sour after the death of the matriarch of the house. It’s a slow moving film even at its short length, and it doesn’t take advantage fully of the locale nor it uses the great actor José Sosa to its full strength. Nevertheless, it’s short.
- De Repente (Perhaps) (2016, Cristóbal Olivares)
Can’t say much about this, because I did the final edit of this film. Its placing in this list says all what I can say, as objectively as I can.
- El Príncipe Inca (The Inca Prince) (2016, Ana María Hurtado)
A Chilean dude travels to Peru to find his ancestors, which he finds are too many, too widespread, and not as important as he thought they were. A tale of disappointment, which only becomes satisfying to see this man’s dreams crushed, but beyond that, it’s a documentary that gets too close to its main character, and thus it becomes irritating.
- La comodidad en la distancia (The comfortable nature of distance) (2014, Jorge Yacoman)
One of two films directed by this young filmmaker whose artistic intentions are somewhat interesting, but they are constantly botched by the inane nature of their plotting. This film follows a young man that suddenly has no house to return to, we see him wandering the streets, getting together with other homeless people, be witness of violence, and then it all ends. What was the point?
- El Zurdo, la revancha del ninguneado (The Leftie, the revenge of the nobody) (2016, Roberto Cox)
Extremely well investigated documentary that explores the early career of the Argentinian soccer coach Jorge Sampaoli. This is evidently a work for fans of his career in both Argentina and Chile, as he later was the coach of the Chilean team and a good element in terms of how it won two consecutive Copas América. But the elegiac tone gets sour once you take into account all the money he stole while he was in charge here. Bittersweet.
- Un caballo llamado elefante (A horse named Elephant) (2016, Andrés Waissbluth)
Chilean kids deserve better. This is a supposed children’s film that mixes fantasy with real life elements, telling the story of two brothers that get lost in a circus trying to find their grandfather’s horse. There they live adventures where overacting and the constant reminder that neither magic nor fantasy elements are real are the main ingredients. It has good intentions, but it needed a couple dozen twists before getting made.
- Fragmentos de Lucía (Lucía’s Fragments) (2016, Jorge Yacoman)
Yacoman here makes another undistinguishable grey film about a woman who searches for a mother that she never met, but without any real interest in what is happening on the screen beyond putting his main actress, Javiera Díaz de Valdés, in constant quandaries and emotional distress, which turns out for a great performance in a film that you instantly forget.
- Camaleón (Chameleon) (2016, Jorge Riquelme Serrano)
Two movies for the prize of one, but not really a good deal when neither of them is that well made. What starts as the melodramatic portray of a lesbian couple and the irritating presence of a visitor, it makes a hard shift well over the halfway mark, turning into a horror thriller, which is interesting in concept, but it doesn’t serve as a vehicle for anything but shock itself.
- Huesos Rotos (Broken Bones) (2014, Ricardo Mahnke)
Mahnke at times seems to emulate the style of one of the most interesting Argentinian directors of recent years: José Celestino Campusano. But the misguided nature of the script only serves to strengthen the idea that this is just an amateur effort, strong only for its political stance, which saves it from oblivion. Tells the story of a ghost that everyone believes is alive that has come back to bring justice to the injustices of the past.
- Si Escuchas Atentamente (If You Listen Closely) (2015, Nicolás Guzmán)
In concept, attractive, a documentary that follows four kids as they finish their basic education, asking them about their dreams, what they want to be when they grow up, and taking a hard look at the quality of their education. Sadly, it never elevates from that simple exposition, and even though it lets the character speak for themselves, it lets slide critiques that are uninteresting in the context of the crisis in education that Chile lives.
- Nunca vas a estar solo (You’ll never be alone) (2016, Álex Anwandter)
One of the two films made in 2016 (but the only one released to theaters so far) based on a real news case, a kid that was hit to death by apparent neo Nazis, apparently only because he was homosexual. This film was the biggest disappointment, as I expected more involvement in what happened, only then focusing on the father of the kid, who seems more interested in other things, and thus we lose focus of what we had in more than the first half of the film. Beautifully shot though.
- La vida sexual de las plantas (The Sex Life of Plants) (2015, Sebastián Brahm)
This should be lower, as with time I’ve understood a very rotten ideology that lies deep within the layers of the film, which is complexly made to confuse the viewer into thinking that a woman might’ve made the wrong choice in not staying with a man that she doesn’t love anymore. Yet, the performances are strong, some scenes are really well directed, and it rings true at times. But, still. Ew.
- Las Plantas (The Plants) (2015, Roberto Doveris)
One of the strangest films that have come out of Chile. Sadly, this isn’t a full compliment, as the strangeness itself comes from a confusion that the film holds within that is related to the fact that it’s never clear about what it’s really about, is it about the obsessions of a young child? Is it about her brother and her family relations? Is it about some secret powers that are hidden inside a comic book? Oh, it’s about her sexual awakening… Ok.
- Cuando respiro (When I breathe) (2015, Coti Donoso)
A standard documentary with interviews and images of Santiago, the capital of Chile, to talk about the contamination in all its senses, but specially of the air and how it affects everyone. What makes this interesting is the intervention of the poet Armando Uribe, who recites poetry and says some interesting and funny phrases throughout the documentary about the need of clean air.
- Quilapayún, más allá de la canción (Quilapayún, beyond the song) (2015, Jorge Leiva)
A music documentary about the band Quilapayún, one of the most important folklore bands of all time. Classic in its approach, with an interesting approach to archive, and overall complete in its dissection of every member… it is what it is.
- Neruda (2016, Pablo Larraín)
One of the most well regarded Chilean films in the United States barely makes it into the best 20 Chilean films released in 2016 in my country. The over-complicated editing style, the overlong plot, the un-importance assigned to the character of Bernal (which did exist, it’s not a figment of Neruda’s imagination), brings down what could’ve been Larraín best film. The elements are there: the actors, the set pieces, the scenes, the direction… it’s the script, which struggles to devoid Neruda of any sign of poetry in his life.
- Gringo Rojo (Red Gringo) (2016, Miguel Ángel Vidaurre)
Dean Reed was a minor folk singer, but he was hugely compromised with the cause of Latin America in the late 60’s and 70’s, and until his death, where one of his biggest causes was bringing justice to the Chilean singer Víctor Jara, whom he played in a very kitschy film made years later. This documentary uses footage from his acts, films, and interviews, creating a nice enough portrait of someone whom you’d never hear in the big history otherwise.
- 4Ramas 4Armas (4Branches 4Weapons) (2014, Katharin Ross)
An interesting film that takes a look at four urban art forms made in the poorest neighborhoods of Santiago, the capital of Chile. The thesis of the film is that these expressions are weapons to combat poverty and the state in which these young people are. Well, yeah, of course. A bit long even at its short length, but worth for those interested in graffiti, hip-hop, breakdance and other art forms.
- Te Kuhane o Te Tupuna (el espíritu de los ancestros) (The Spirit of the Ancestors) (2015, Leonardo Pakarati)
Commendable for being one of the first films made by a member of one of the indigene tribes of Chile, in this case the Rapa Nui of Easter Island, to be released on theaters. This documentary puts the director as the protagonist as he tries to educate a younger generation on the reasons as to why the moais are so important, and why they only belong in their land.
- El primero de la familia (The first born) (2016, Carlos Leiva)
Expanding on an awarded short film, Leiva amps up the emotions and the problems surrounding a family whose firstborn is also the first person to ever travel abroad. The preparations for a farewell party mix up with a broken sewage, the chronic sickness of the mother and the financial problems of the father. Only certain icky filial relations make you feel as if the film is just trying to pile misery upon misery, but at least it’s powerful in its depiction.
- (((Resonancia))) ((((Resonance)))) (2016, Ximena Quiroz)
A documentary featuring deaf and deaf-mute performers who come together under a theater troupe and put up in stage a play about their life stories. The film interviews the participants, the spectators and the teachers as they come up with the ideas, the words that they say and the music that resonates throughout the spectacle. A film that posits that there can be a true union between differently abled people.
- El hombre nuevo (The new man) (2015, Aldo Garay)
Filmed in Uruguay and with co-productions from many countries like France and Chile, this documentary follows a transsexual woman who battled in the guerrilla decades ago, before she began her gender assignment process. A powerful piece that confronts this woman (the worse thing about this documentary is the title) with documents, footage and family reunions.
- Aquí no ha pasado nada (Much Ado About Nothing) (2016, Alejandro Fernández Almendras)
Changing the names of the real people involved, Almendras tells what seems to be the secret story of a crime that changed the political landscape in Chile. The son of a senator runs over a man when drunk and gets free because of someone else taking the blame. This is the inner story of that happenstance, which is thrilling and well made, but also its intentions of being “the truth” makes it sometimes forget it also should be a film.
- El final del día (The end of the day) (2015, Peter McPhee)
A landscape documentary about one of the driest places in the world, which happens to be in the North of Chile, and where everyone has internalized the fact that the world might end the 21st of December back in 2012. It manages to be an ethnographic portrait of the people who live in the small town, their fears about water and a greatly edited and constructed work of how you can build a script out of reality.
- 7 semanas (7 weeks) (2016, Constanza Figari)
Abortion is still illegal in Chile under any circumstance, and that is in the process of changing as you read these words, but this small fiction works around the present legislation, where a woman gets unexpectedly pregnant and finds herself with a supporting family and couple… but no one has asked her if she wants the child or not. A poignant portrait, excellently acted.
- Atrapados en Japón (Trapped in Japan) (2015, Vivienne Barry)
Four journalists from Chile are invited to visit Japan by the government, but as they visit the historical places, World War II starts, and they are in limbo as the position of Chile in the conflict isn’t clear. This inventive documentary mixes the personal (one of the journalists is the filmmaker’s father), voice over narration and stop motion animation to narrate this curious anecdote.
- Coach (2016, Leonardo Medel)
Chile lacks strange and complex films with deeply layered structures, and as you’ll notice, the closer we get to that kind of cinema, it will be higher in this list. This film follows a structure (that the film narrates and lays out in the beginning of the film with animations and voice over), and then drops an element of chaos that disrupts the world of ontological coaching in which the film takes place, with a Peruvian woman played by kitsch singer Wendy Sulca, which is a revelation in this mute performance where she is presented with a series of tasks and levels to pass as she gets deeper and deeper into a structure that she doesn’t know. One to rewatch.
- Poesía sin fin (Endless Poetry) (2016, Alejandro Jodorowsky)
The sequel to Jodorowsky’s own The Dance of Reality (2013) got a full review on Vague Visages, that’s where you can read about it and why it places so highly.
- Rara (Weird) (2016, Pepa San Martín)
Maybe among the most enjoyable films in this list, mainly because it features a non annoying child protagonist with common struggles that any pre-pubescent child might have, but with the difference that her mother lives with another woman as her couple, and she is in the midst of court drama regarding her and her sister’s tuition. The film doesn’t want you to pay much attention to the lesbian aspect of the plot as much as it wants you to naturalize it in the context of her point of view.
- El soltero de la familia (The single in the family) (2015, Daniel Osorio)
Documentaries are the best place to experiment, and here Daniel Osorio puts himself under scrutiny as he discusses with past loves, friends and psychologists why he didn’t marry anyone. It barely approaches the hour mark and yet it feels like one of the most original films in terms of how the director explores himself and a social wont about who should marry who and when.
- Los castores (Beaverland) (2014, Antonio Luco, Nicolás Molina)
It’s usual to see documentaries about nature and how we must save it, which might be among the most important causes that exists in today’s world, but when environmentalists (in this case a couple of biologists) take matter into their own hands and start killing beavers in the austral south of Chile because they’ve become a plague, we have maybe the most interesting documentary in terms of morality and risk.
- El viento sabe que vuelvo a casa (The wind knows that I’m coming home) (2016, José Luis Torres Leiva)
A visual poem. Documentary director Ignacio Agüero plays himself as he travels and explores Chiloé, mentioned before in this list as among the most beautiful places in the country. There he does a casting call in a school while he investigates a story that he heard many years ago about two kids who fell in love and died to be together, as their parents didn’t allow it. He doesn’t find the origin, but he finds infinite stories that wear him out. This is a film about the difficulty of having your own stories as a filmmaker and how stressful is to hear someone else’s.
- El rastreador de estatuas (The monument hunter) (2015, Jerónimo Rodríguez)
Maybe the most unique and Ruizian film of the past few years. Narrated in Second Person, all the principal events happen to someone else, and filmed without any characters onscreen, a voice tells us about the desperate search of a film director of a statue he saw when he was young along with his father, a statue that he also saw on a film, and thus sparked the memory in his mind. Beautifully constrained and emotional in subtle manners, this is maybe the best Chilean film of the past few years.
- La recta provincia (The straight province) (2007, Raúl Ruiz)
Raúl Ruiz keeps having some of his less known films released in theaters here, and that’s just amazing. Here we have an almost three-hour film that’s a TV miniseries for Chilean TV edited together and received a limited run after a restoration, one of the last things that Ruiz oversaw before he died. This is mostly an exercise in the futility of storytelling, and maybe the most absurdly and obsessively Ruizian film, where the most important element is the performance of documentary director Ignacio Agüero as a dumb countryside’s mama’s old boy, and how the stories, at the beginning, seem to follow a completely normal structure (people tell stories and we get inside of them), but then there are stories within stories, and sure, the game is still comprehensible, but then characters from other stories start popping up in other character’s stories, the narrations mix, suddenly we enter dreams, we see our main characters walk into the story because they have fallen asleep while listening to it, and at the end we are witnessing the story itself being told again, before it happens, both as a prophecy and as a retelling of the same tale, so we know just how futile the whole experience was. An incredible labyrinth that I can’t recommend enough.
A note to end all notes: if you’ve gone thus far, thank you, this article was originally going to be for a venue that sported a similar list last year, but backed out when the text was finished and corrected because it was “negative”. I leave that impression to you, I don’t think it is, it’s celebratory of the differences and how much road ahead we have. The publication has lost my support, my intentions of ever pitching there again and all