As the first country where Neoliberalism was introduced by military force by a regime lasting 17 years, Chile violently transitioned from a short-lived socialist democracy (1970-73) to the terror of dictatorship which imposed a market-driven ethos that has ruled Chilean society since that time, a model that soon after was implemented worldwide. When institutional democracy was restored in 1990, the Chilean people now confronted an international context in which their experience of neoliberalism in the periphery had become global and normalised, a world trend that was intensified by the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union, which seemed to bury and delegitimise any alternatives to the hegemony achieved by the capitalist global order. The return to democracy, then, did not bring about the possibility of recovering Chile’s own democratic past and resuming its historical trajectory, but rather it took the form of a “transition to democracy”, aimed above all at facilitating social reconciliation by controlling dissent. In this context, and despite state-led initiatives to confront the past via Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, memory enacted through cultural and civic activism in fact became the only social vehicle for acknowledging and reconnecting with a socio-political history that had been severely disrupted by the dictatorship.
Chilean cinema of the last 27 years has played a central role in confronting the social trauma created by the dictatorial regime, as well as in exposing the social illnesses generated by the neoliberal model of conviviality. This has been carried out through closely following the premises inherited from the 1950s New Latin American Cinema continental project (NLAC). Thus, in documentary and fictional form, Chilean cinema has been able not only to reconnect with its own artistic tradition, but also to found the ethical grounds from which to recount the past and critique current neoliberal Chilean society. In documentary film, the works of Patricio Guzmán (The Pinochet Case, Nostalgia for the Light) and Ignacio Agüero (Agustin’s Newspaper, The Other Day) provide some of the most paradigmatic examples of dealing with social traumatic memory. In both cases the turn toward the voice of the victims and eyewitnesses provides a place for what I have elsewhere described as the documentary of forensic memory.
In fictional cinema, in the 1990s and 2000s, Andrés Wood consolidated his auteur cinema voice by recounting pre-authoritarian Chilean history (Violeta went to Heaven), by focusing on contemporary neoliberal Chile (The Good Life), or via a cathartic cinema that has exposed the actual event that created the social trauma (Machuca). In contrast, in the last 8 years Pablo Larraín has distanced himself from prevailing ideological discourses still contesting their version of the past (Tony Manero, Post Mortem, No, Neruda). Although shaped within the social values of neoliberalism, far from inspiring complacency or indifference to the status quo, Larraín’s sarcastic and demonumentalising approach has reignited a social debate that has displaced hegemonic voices, thus opening the possibility of renewed ways of evaluating Chile’s recent traumatic past.
Associate Professor Walescka Pino-Ojeda received her PhD in Critical Theory and Latin American Literature at the University of Washington, Seattle. Since 2007 she has been the director o the New Zealand Centre for Latin American Studies at The University of Auckland. She has published on Latin American women and gay literature, photography, civic activism, film, and popular music. Her books, Sobre Castas y Puentes: Conversaciones con Elena Poniatowska, Rosario Ferre y Eltit (2000) and Noche y Niebla: Neoliberalismo, Memoria y Trauma en el Chile post-authoritario Chile (2011) were published in Chile by Editorial Cuarto Propio. She is presently completing a volume that analyses the role that the arts, culture and civic activism have been playing in overcoming the traumas of the past in order to consolidate ongoing processes of re-democratization in post-authoritarian Chile.