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Chile ’76: Hitchcockian Slow Cinema?

Posted by May 15th, 2023 No Comments »

Chile 76′ (2022)
Directed by Manuella Martelli
Starring Aline Kuppenheim, Hugo Medina and Nicolas Sepulveda

As viewed at the 49th Annual Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF)

Chile 76′ succeeds on multiple levels – as an authentic period piece, a visual masterpiece, an aural experience, and a career-defining performance.

I know next to nothing about Chile. I may know even less about the year 1976. I was 2 years old, and I don’t remember a thing about growing up in Idaho at that age. If Idaho 76′ was anywhere as beautiful as the depiction of Chile in this film, I wish I could remember. From the vehicles to the homes, restaurants and streets, every frame feels lived in and true to the time period. There wasn’t a single scene that felt contrived or forced in regard to accurately documenting the era. This, of course, was mostly due to the expert set design and direction.

Chile 76′ borders on slow cinema. Each scene is crafted to hold our protagonist as she moves in and out of frame. During the calculated scenes where Carmen (played magnificently by Aline Kuppenheim) stays put, the camera zooms in at a snail’s pace adding a mesmerizing quality that matches the weight of the synth-heavy score. Dolly shots glide smoothly and slowly as the scene breaths, and are never cut short with ill-timed quick edits.

These master filmmaking techniques are so engaging that I felt myself leaning forward to try and get closer. I wanted to go even farther into this world from the past that was so colorfully displayed in front of me. The juxtaposition of the Chilean coast and the arid inland was palpable – I could feel it in my lungs. I had no prior knowledge about cinematographer Soledad Rodriguez. After seeing Chile ’76, I will seek out every film they have shot.

My Optimum Immersion (O1) was 100% intact when I sat down for this film at the 49th annual Seattle International Film Festival, meaning I was also unaware of director Manuela Martelli. A quick scan of the Chile ’76 IMBD listing tells me that its Martelli’s first feature film, and I’m stunned by the cinematic maturity of this first time filmmaker.  

Another debut in this film is that of Maria Portugal, the composer for this film’s aforementioned “synth heavy score,” which provides a beautiful and welcomed departure from most period pieces, which often boast scores swelled with orchestral swagger. Instead, the sounds Portugal created for Chile ’76 had an almost narcotic effect, making me feel both disoriented and sublime as the mystery unfolded. Wait, did I mention that Chile ’76 is also a mysteriously suspenseful film, reminiscient of Hitchock’s political thrillers?

Unlike most reviews you will read, I hold fast to the sanctity of OI, so I don’t want to give you plot points or even the narrative skeleton of this film. I will say that Aline Kuppenheim gives a career performance as Carmen, the matriarch of a Chilean family visiting their vacation home. She gets herself into some trouble that may have to do with a dead body washed up on the beach, a man with a leg wound and choosing a color to paint the inside of her vacation house for her granddaughter’s birthday.

I cannot wait to view the second film from Martelli, but for now I will urge everyone to see her first film at the first possible opportunity.

For SIFF reviews I have opted against the letter grades I ascribe to the hundreds of films I review for this website. Instead, I will only be either recommending or not recommending. And I STRONGLY RECOMMEND Chile 76′.

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