A jeep filled with soldiers parks at the end of a city block. As a military commander shoos away a pedestrian, he notices a cameraman. The officer fires his pistol at him (and, by extension, us); two other troops point their rifles and shoot. A narrator informs us that the date is June 29, 1973, and these junta goons will overthrow Chilean president Salvador Allende’s Socialist government several months later. He also tells us that the Argentine photojournalist filming this footage has just recorded his own death.
If these two minutes were the only thing worth mentioning in Patricio Guzmn’s three-part documentary on the coup that permanently changed the country’s landscape, The Battle of Chile would simply be the apex of direct-cinema snuff movies. What Guzmn has given us, rather, is the definitive statement on the last gasp of South American democracy. Available for the first time on DVD, the three docs that make up this magnum opus—The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie (1975), The Coup d’tat (1977) and The Power of the People (1979)—are primers on what happened after seeds of dissent (planted by the CIA) started to bear fruit. Man-on-the-street interviews and anti-Commie union rallies offer social context; actual scenes of military assaults on citizens and the coup itself (!) show you history in the making.
Icarus also includes a fourth disc featuring Chile, Obstinate Memory (1997), a short feature that follows Guzmn as he returns to his home country after decades of exile; this brief coda renders the set’s only supplement, a new 22-minute interview with Guzmn, somewhat superfluous. It brings the story full circle, capping off a singular landmark in political docu-journalism.—David Fear
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