“My imaginary country” tells the Chilean uprising of 2019 through the eyes of women

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Patricio Guzman’s last missive from his native Chile, My imaginary country, opens with a touch of nostalgia: black-and-white images of sidewalks filled with cheering supporters of Salvador Allende towards his 1970 presidential election, posed on an elegiac spare piano. It’s a feint, however, because throughout the film – which opens Friday, October 29 at the Roxie, the perfect venue for it – the present proves far more compelling to the 81-year-old writer-director than the past.

Allende has been Guzman’s touchstone — personal and professional — ever since the socialist politician took office promising a fairer society. Guzman’s film debut, The first year, chronicled Allende’s first 12 months in power. The idealism embodied by the president remains the artist’s beacon, recalling how some Americans still revere the spirit of change represented by John and Robert Kennedy.

Allende died in the US-backed military coup of 1973, which installed the venal Augusto Pinochet at the head of a ruthless and repressive regime. Guzman’s urgent and epic three-part story of the mid-1970s, The Battle of Chilestands as the pinnacle of documentary cinema.

A protest scene from ‘My Never Land.’ (Courtesy of Icarus Films)

My imaginary country welcomes the spontaneous popular protest movement that exploded in October 2019, and led a year later to a vote to rewrite the Chilean constitution. Guzman presents it as a belated reward for the shattered idealism and heartbreaking betrayal of his youth: it was compensation, he repeatedly acknowledges in his sometimes gloomy, sometimes glowing narration, demanded by a new generation – both for the massive debt owed to their parents and grandparents by the Chilean government, and as a down payment on their own future.

Instead of a propulsive, blow-by-blow documentary constructed from images of truth, Guzman opts for a more thoughtful style that still preserves the urgency of the moment and the cause. He interviews a range of women – and only women – including a photographer, a volunteer doctor, a housing activist, a poet, a political scientist and a chess master (which may sound familiar to those who have seen the leader- political/philosophical work of Guzman in 2010 nostalgia for light).

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