JWR Articles: Film/DVD - For Sama | The Cordillera of Dreams (Directors: Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts, Patricio Guzmán) - February 17, 2020
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For Sama | The Cordillera of Dreams

4.5 4.5

Two must-see documentaries

For Sama
96 minutes, 2019
Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts
Four and one half stars

A journalist and a doctor

Using the wonderful conceit of a mother’s (Al-Kateab) “letter” to her born-during-the-strife daughter (Sama)—fathered by Dr Hamza after rejecting his previous wife for a life of social activism, the 2012-16 Siege of Aleppo is brought to vigorous life on the big screen even as government and rebel forces decimate each in other in the name of…for once, I am stumped.

Sure, it’s all about alliances (Bashir Assad, supported by the Russians) and the Free Syrian Army (alongside various Sunni organizations—cross reference below), but by journey’s end there is no real victor: just thousands of lives lost and buildings (notably hospitals in East Aleppo) in smouldering ruins.

As usual in these conflicts, it seems to be the least able to defend themselves amongst us that suffer the most. Seeing hospital wards filled with devastatingly wounded children (many already wrapped for burial) and elders who should be playing chess rather than their “golden” years being trumped by political upheaval ready for the grave, loads the dice in favour of crimes against humanity rather than social upheaval. Yet there are no saints in this conflict (as is the case almost every time armed conflict occurs)—this film is mute on any atrocities committed by the “good guys”. In my view, there are no good guys, ever.

Still, baby Sama remains the star of the production with her cooing, generous locks and seeming acceptance/unawareness of the cluster bombs, barrel bombs and chlorine weaponry swirling around and into her young life.

By journey’s end—with the “militants” being forced into exile—it is only to lament the tragic waste of life, art and buildings just to prove, once again, that “I am the president; disobey me at your peril.” This makes Trump’s impeachment seem like small beer—so far. JWR


The Cordillera of Dreams
84 minutes, 2019
Patricio Guzmán
Four and one half stars

Ensuring the memory of the future

More than four decades after leaving his troubled homeland, Guzmán’s latest film is a fascinating combination of a love letter for the towering Andes Mountains that both “isolate and protect” Chile and a searing indictment as to how social inequality (notably following the coup d’état in 1973) is largely unchanged (while virtually no slums in Santiago, there is still a great divide between the rich and the rest).

In the tradition of Samsara and Redoubt (cross-references below), Samuel Lahu’s incredibly varied and thoughtful cinematography—especially sending viewers into, around, up and down the Cordillera range, fills the eye with spectacular natural images, even as present-day and painstakingly shot/edited brutal images from the archives (much of the latter thanks to Pablo Salas, who purposely chose to stay and make it his life’s work capturing the dictatorship’s oppression of his fellow Chileans so that no one could ever deny it—many still do!—fake news is as old as the first reporter/leader conflict…). How repugnant to see tear gas and water cannon then and now used on protesters of all stripes. The original music from Miranda & Taber (notably the bass clarinet and piano “calls” in the mountains), ideally captures the tone and most especially the tempo of the majestic peaks. The only difference between one of the planet’s longest mountain ranges and the cities and villages beyond and below is the rate of change: in the Andes–aside from active volcanoes—it can take centuries to realize, while in the cities and villages, some change is instantaneous.

Guzmán admits that he feels like an alien in his own land, however—we discover through a number of interviews with Salas and several other artists—many people walk the streets alone not really sure where they are going…

At the root of this unease seems to be economics and legislation. Neoliberalism was mightily embraced by Augusto Pinochet (and imported from Chicago), but his take (literally, it seems) was to enable the private sector to do as they pleased (especially attractive to foreign investors) without the worry of pesky labour unions and government regulations. Accordingly, Chile’s lucrative copper trade fell largely into foreign corporate interests, as witness the unscheduled “Ghost Trains” (if you pretend not to see them, they can’t exist), sending the cheaply mined mineral out of the country and lining investors’ wallets. Incredibly, the 1980 Constitution (also from Pinochet) is largely still in force in 2019! Most certainty the haves prefer maintaining the status quo with the have nots. Somewhere, Aristotle is nodding in agreement.

Towards the end of the production, yet another present-day demonstration features mostly women (there are many issues such as education and abortion to rail about) singing a revised text to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”: “sing and you dream for a new day” before being pummelled by yet another volley from the water cannon.

Buried in the mountains (yes, if only they could speak!) are many meteorites now on display in Santiago museums. Guzmán concludes with a special wish for Chile to “recover [it’s] childhood and joy,” but it will take a monumental creative effort (such as Beethoven’s 9th symphony) to bring that noble thought to life. JWR

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