Staging Silence: Patricio Guzman's Chile: Obstinate Memory



Patricio Guzman’s Chile: Obstinate Memory (1997) documents a society in the process of forgetting the painful memories of the past.  The film is shot more than twenty years after the military coup of Augusto Pinochet overthrew Salvador Allende and the Popular Unity government (1970-73).  Guzman documents his own return from exile and seeks out other aging comrade survivors of his generation to interview them about their memories of the Allende period using images from photographs and film to prompt discussions about the past.  

One particularly moving scene in the film features a woman who Guzman directs to look at an image of herself during a protest, but the woman refuses to confirm that the image is her.  She represents those Chileans who have found some level of comfort in the social and generational push to forget.  We learn later that five of her family members are “disappeared” and that her refusal of the past is likely tied to memories too painful to remember.  

Guzman also documents the experience of showing his own trilogy of documentaries The Battle for Chile (filmed during the Allende era, but never before shown in Chile) to the Chilean youth of the 1990s.  Many of the students were clearly moved by the passion and the failed dreams of their parents’ generation.  Steve J. Stern argues in book 3 of his trilogy that the film explores the generational void of memory by displaying the strong reactions of youth to the film.  "Obstinate Memory gave ingenious form to silence as an overpowering and present absence.  The young knew that the Unidad Popular era and the 1973 crisis were foundational, yet had come to know it mainly as void and negation" (Stern 167).  Obstinate Memory is an excellent example of how memory persists just under the surface even though society has seemingly “moved on.”  
Full length documentary Chile: Obstinate Memory (1997)