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November 06, 2022

Denver Film Festival - Chile 1976

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Manuela Martelli - 2022
Kino Lorber

I have some trepidation about describing a film as Hitchockian as it usually applied to films with graphic shocks. What I have in mind are the earlier films with the central character caught in a situation they do not fully understand, with growing paranoia and distrust of the people in their immediate environment. From almost the very beginning, there is a sense that the middle-aged housewife, Carmen, whether driving or simply walking, is moving towards some dark fate.

It should be pointed out that the original title is simply 1976, with geographical augmentation for the U.S. release serving a couple of functions. While there is no reference to any specific event, this is a film that takes place during the third year of Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship in Chile. With fear of imprisonment or worse, even talk between friends needs to be coded. Any kind of political discussion is officially discouraged. Even being an accidental witness is dangerous.

Carmen is introduced buying a very specific shade of pink paint for the coastal house she is remodeling. Outside of the store, noise, presumably gunshots, are heard. The customers stay within the confines of the paint shop. When Carmen steps out, she finds a shoe that has fallen under her car. Being the wife of a successful doctor, Carmen also does volunteer work for the church. She is persuaded by a priest to house a wounded young man, described as a thief who stole some bread, to protect him from an unjust prison sentence. She hides the young man in what might be considered an act of Christian charity. While becoming aware that she is now responsible for a political activist, Carmen also becomes more committed in spite of the dangers posed to both herself and her family.

Is Carmen being followed by the driver behind her? Is the stranger at the roadside restaurant merely looking for brief conversation? Was Carmen's car broken into with contents strewn by some government agent or was it simply the result of parking in a poor neighborhood? Maria Portugal's score helps supplement the sense of suspense, with some of the music being electronically treated and distorted. Martelli discussing the music in an interview: "“The sounds and the music in the film are important because, in the end, I was asking myself how to portray that horror from the point of view of Carmen. That was my initial premise. I wanted to observe the period from her angle. For her the horror was invisible. Even when she begins to feel it, it is still invisible. She starts to perceive it, she knows it is there, but she cannot see it."

While 1976 is Manuela Martelli's directorial feature debut, this follows a handful of shorts and two decades of acting. A significant number of key production positions are held by women including the editing and cinematography. Ms. Martelli has already won several awards for directing a first feature.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 6, 2022 07:40 AM