Director Patricio Guzmán may not be a household name. Yet his documentary series, The Battle of Chile, made him one of the principal figures in capturing Chilean history on film. After being on the ground to capture the beginnings of the Allende revolution and the rise of Pinochet, Guzmán’s more than proved his credibility. Yet his latest film, My Imaginary Country, paints a new picture of Chile. The documentary captures a movement from 2019 to 2021 led by women and young citizens seeking change.
In 2019, the Chilean government made a surprisingly controversial choice. After raising the price of local public transportation, the city of Santiago saw mass protests. What begins as fare evasion escalates to demonstrations in the streets. When the government calls the military to restore order, the students and protestors of the city strengthen their resolve. Guzmán focuses his camera on the women of the movement, following them as they protest for professional opportunities, as well as violence against women, rape, and sexual misconduct. Eventually, they shape the new Chilean Constitutional Convention.
Most documentaries looking at countries in times of civil unrest end in tragedy. That alone helps My Imaginary Country stand out from the pack. Instead, Guzmán’s story builds to a crescendo of civil unrest. Yet that turmoil opens doors for new opportunities for half the population. Moreover, juxtaposing images of destruction and protest with the excitement of a new government reinforces a vital truth. Anything worth fighting for demands sacrifice.
Guzmán’s camera and crew frame the struggle in the starkest terms possible. They portray police brutality in stark terms. Blood flows in the streets, and we see the toll that becoming a protestor means for many. Some remain in their protest garb to ensure that their inclusion in the documentary and movement does not give away their identity. Others muse about the future, including the good and bad of what is to come.
The secret MVP of My Imaginary Country comes from Guzmán’s stylistic conceptions. He stages his heroines in visuals reminiscent of Werner Herzog’s lingering style. Allowing the camera to focus on these women before they begin to discuss their role in the protests enables us to see them in a candid light. The similarities to Herzog do not end there, with Guzmán providing his narration. While less existential than the german director, Guzmán questions whether the actions and events are a new beginning for his beloved country. After all, he’s documented revolutions in the country before. A shade of optimism exists, but his cautious approach can be felt through it all.
Few documentaries ever carry the history of a singular director. Yet My Imaginary Country forces Guzmán to reflect on his life through the context of his home country. Whether this becomes, one of Guzmán’s enduring films remains to be seen. Regardless, My Imaginary Country deserves laudits as one of the most emotional documentaries of the year.