With Cordillera of Dreams, Documentarian Patricio Guzmán completes his trilogy contrasting the beauty of Chile’s landscapes with the horror of its recent political history by focusing on the deceptively unchanging Andes cordillera.
Santiagio, the capital of Chile, sits at the foot of the Andes mountains, the titular cordillera separating the country from its neighbour Argentina. Director Patricio Guzmán has spent his career trying to reconcile the irreconcilable: how the country and people he loves could also have been the site of such brutality. From 1973 to 1990, the regime of Augusto Pinochet transformed the country by creating a free market at the expense of civil liberties.
Thousands of people who opposed Pinochet were “disappeared” and more, including Guzmán, were arrested. Guzmán was held prisoner at Santiago Stadium, where, he reflects in the film, twelve years earlier, he had watched Chile play in the World Cup.
Cordillera of Dreams completes Guzmán’s trilogy of documentaries, after Nostalgia for the Light (2010) and The Pearl Button (2015), which contrast the beauty of Chile’s landscapes with the horror of its recent political history. Guzmán reflects that, as a youth, he was not interested in the mountains, because “they were not revolutionary.” Now, he sees them as one of the only remnants of the Chile he knew before escaping into exile. He talks to fellow Chilean ex-exiles about how they remain drawn to mountains because there, time has apparently stood still. The film compares old images of the cordillera with the present day mountains in order to contrast them with how much the city at their feet have changed. The Santiago of Guzmán’s youth has been replaced with gleaming glass towers. In an ingenious shot, he focuses on the apartment building where he grew up, framing it so that the rest of the neighbourhood is outside the shot. He then zooms out to reveal the building is the last holdout against gentrification and that it stands lonely between the modern buildings Guzmán associates with Pinochet’s Chile.
A young Guzmán may have been uninterested in the mountains because they were not revolutionary, yet even the mountains have been affected by the legacy of Pinochet’s reforms. A drone mountain camera probes deeper than the face to reveal foreign mining operations on the cordillera, inaccessible by public roads. The cordillera’s face so far remains untouched, but the mountain’s slow destruction by the unbridled economic forces Pinochet introduced to the country illustrates how while the disappearances have ended, the nation continues to put business ahead of all else. Not even the appearingly timeless mountains offer solace to Guzmán, to whom “modern” Chile will forever be a stranger.