Tag Archives: Chilean films

History Lesson

The Settlers

by Hope Madden

It’s amazing how often the beauty of unconquered land is met with the ugliness of conquest in film, as deceptively tranquil images of vast, open space underscore the heinous brutality of colonialism.

Co-writer/director Felipe Gálvez Haberle (with a massive assist from cinematographer Simone D’Arcangelo) draws you in with the same aesthetic for his gripping and ruggedly gorgeous indictment of Chile’s history in The Settlers.

An artful and unflinching portrait of atrocities inflicted on South America’s Ona people, The Settlers is a historical indictment not unlike Jennifer Kent’s 2018 study in tension and colonial horror, The Nightingale.

Three men set off across a wealthy landowner’s vast property in 1901: one Scottish soldier (Mark Stanley), one Texan gun-for-hire (Benjamin Westfall), and one native tracker (Camilo Arancibia). Their stated mission is to clear a path for the landowner’s sheep to the ocean. Their actual goal, as tracker Segundo would soon realize, is the sweeping slaughter of all indigenous people on the land.

Act one keeps its distance. There’s little dialog and scenes are mostly shot from afar, Chile’s inhospitable vastness on display. Act two brings the camera and us a little closer to the action, and the cinematic vision morphs from art-Western to something closer to horror.

The third act pivot feels more jarring. The austerity of a chamber piece sets the film on its side, but Gálvez Haberle never loses control. Indeed, it is control itself he is depicting, and the effect is chilling.

These bold shifts in structure and tone do less to undermine the tension than to alter it, set it in another direction. The safer Haberle makes the situation feel, the more institutional the horror becomes. When capitalism, politics and religion work together to redirect and rewrite history, the ugliest things are possible.

Arancibia’s performance is mainly silent, the horror of the unprovoked slaughter registering little by little across his guarded expression. Even more stunning is Mishell Guaña as a indigenous woman who becomes part of the expedition. Guaña wears a lifetime of distrust and injustice so wearily, so angrily on her face.

The true story of one nation’s history of genocide, The Settlers is unsettling universal.  What Gálvez Haberle does so effectively is take it to the next step, where a nation’s brutally criminal past becomes its sanctified, sanitized history.

The Saddest Lines


by Hope Madden

Pablo Larraín is having quite a year. In theaters already with his insightful vision of grief, celebrity and politics, Jackie, the Chilean filmmaker returns with a page from his own nation’s history books – Neruda.

Again eschewing the traditional biopic structure, Neruda drops us into the life of Chile’s most beloved poet and most famous Communist as political tides are changing. Post WWII, Pablo Neruda’s outspoken support of his party puts him on the wrong side of his government.

Though Neruda (Luis Gnecco) became the voice of resistance in Chile and around the world, his own life hardly mirrored the communist principles he championed. A poet, a lover and a man of grand excess, he spoke eloquently of a struggle he refused to live himself.

A fascinating set of conundrums, Neruda is a hard man to pin down cinematically – so Larraín doesn’t exactly try.

When Chile calls for Neruda’s arrest, we follow him underground, as does Inspector Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal – scene stealer).

Here is where Larrain, working from Guillermo Calderon’s inventive screenplay, gets a bit experimental to better serve his subject.

From Peluchonneau’s point of view, the film becomes hard-boiled detective pulp, a narrative device that allows Larraín to better explore the line between fact and fiction – and poetry.

The investigator becomes the antagonist in Neruda’s imagined persecution, allowing him the mythical martyrdom and drama he feels a man of his greatness deserves.

Gnecco’s performance hits all the right marks, creating a presence that’s simultaneously admirable, aggravating and disappointingly vain. Fine support from Mercedes Morán as Neruda’s longsuffering wife buoys the performance by articulating the effect he had on those around him.

But the fictional Peluchonneau runs away with the film. García Bernal’s oddball incompetent with his own delusions of grandeur brings color to the film as it transports the audience to a more literary landscape.

The conceit doesn’t always work. It often feels too cute. But there are several scenes where reality and fiction collide without a clear winner – one with Morán and a snowy finale, in particular – that elevate the entire project.

It’s an arresting and lovely near-miss.


Collision Course

From Afar

by Hope Madden

Welcome to the fringes of Caracas, where a life barely lived collides with vibrant and violent passions in From Afar, the confident feature debut from director Lorenzo Vigas.

Veteran Chilean actor Alfredo Castro plays Armando, a solitary figure who stokes what little longing he still has by paying street kids for company.

Castro’s masterful performance mirrors Vigas’s detached style, but there’s more to this character than meets the eye. Vigas, who also wrote, shares only as many details as needed, encouraging the viewer to fill in the missing pieces. Meanwhile, Castro’s resigned, closed-off performance still roils at times with passion that threatens to break through his carefully protected surface.

Vigas’s deliberate use of focus and carefully observational approach keeps the audience at arm’s length, but this remote tone is frequently punctuated by the brute ferocity of young Luis Silva’s performance.

In a blistering screen debut as Elder, the 17-year-old punk who captures Armando’s interest, Silva is a shock to the system. Primal, urgent and impulsive, he bursts through the screen as well as Armando’s emotional walls.

The tension between Armando and Elder and the damage each may be doing to his own life and the other’s cause nerve-wracking tension as the relationship blooms, and yet Silva takes the narrative in directions that are simultaneously inevitable and heartbreakingly surprising.

Though the film sometimes feels overly crafted, and perhaps Vigas allows style to dictate more than it should, there is no denying the lead performances. Committed and natural, sympathetic yet repellant, the two actors unveil characters that are as similar and as dissimilar as people can be.

Vigas understands the power in silence. His film explains very little and yet exposes much – about yearning, class divides, human nature, and survival. He and his remarkable cast invite you into lives you couldn’t possibly know to tell a story with no judgment, and the truth in it is devastating.








by Hope Madden

The only film opening this Valentine’s weekend that is truly worthy of your time is Gloria, a Chilean import that is its own kind of coming of age picture.

A magnificent and utterly fearless Paulina Garcia offers a three dimensional performance like few could manage as Gloria, a vibrant woman in her late fifties still interested in living and loving. A new romance offers the opportunity to weigh independence against passion and stability, and watching Gloria sift through the options is mesmerizing.

Expertly written by director Sebastian Lelio and co-scriptor Gonzalo Maza, the film unfolds before you without a hint of contrivance. This is the kind of film where you sometimes forget there is a script, or even actors. Instead, you feel you are wandering through a particularly tempestuous few weeks with one of the most fascinating and genuine creatures on earth.

Enough cannot be said about Garcia’s performance. She is electric, a set of raw emotions ready to burst in the most unexpected and yet perfectly natural ways. Whether a quick weep or a bout of uncontrolled laughter, every scene could go either way. Her performance, and the film, holds a refreshing acceptance of life’s absurdity.

Like Garcia herself, the movie boasts a stubborn beauty emerging from a comfortably worn form. There is nothing inauthentic about the picture – not a single scene rings false. The film, like Gloria, embraces joy and opportunity without shying away from heartache, loneliness or disappointment. Lelio unflinchingly observes it all.

This is such an intelligently written film, one that doesn’t judge or pontificate, never steps into sentimentality. Lelio doesn’t surgarcoat the life of an aging, single woman, nor does he find it to be necessarily unpleasant. He’s honest, and he is blessed with a lead performance that can be just as honest, just as fearless, just as open.

The film is a character study, but more than that, it’s a study of life and living. It’s a remarkable piece of work, just like its leading lady.