Review: ‘Fist of the Condor,’ starring Marko Zaror, Gina Aguad, Eyal Meyer, Man Soo Yoon and Fernanda Urrejola

September 4, 2023

by Carla Hay

Marko Zaror in “Fist of the Condor” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Fists of the Condor”

Directed by Ernesto Díaz Espinoza

Spanish with some Chinese in subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Chile, the action film “Fist of the Condor” has a predominantly Latin cast of characters (with a few white people and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A warrior battles several assassins who want a book with ancient secrets of a deadly fight technique called Fist of the Condor.

Culture Audience: “Fist of the Condor” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of martial arts films that have uncomplicated plots and deliver exactly what they advertise.

Gina Aguad in “Fist of the Condor” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

No one watching “Fist of the Condor” should expect great acting performances. This action flick delivers exactly what its intended audience wants: impressive martial arts and other adrenaline-packed stunts. The movie’s story is mildly entertaining.

Written and directed by Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, “Fist of the Condor” (which takes place in Chile) is divided into nine chapters. The movie has an introductory statement that explains the background story. This introduction is told in a voiceover.

The statement is: “In the 16th century, at the capture of the Atahualapa, there were still tribes that did not surrender to the conquerors. To counter the Spanish firearms, masters of the Rumi Maki tried to spread a deadly technique amongst the Incas: The Fist of the Condor. But the Spanish stole the sacred manual. The few remaining rebels gave their lives rescuing the book, and the only survivor escaped with it, so that it would never get in the wrong hands again.”

The statement continues: “The legend says that he took refuge in a mountain in the southern part of the world. Whoever has an honest heart would inherit the technique. This is how the manual has been passed down from generation to generation. These warriors are called Masters of the Fist of the Condor.”

“Fist of the Condor” has a simple plot it, but it would give away too much to say everything that happens in this plot. It’s enough to say that the hero is named Guerrero (played by Marko Zaror), and he has a twin brother named Gemelo (also played by Zaror), who are rivals to each other. There’s an elder sage named Wook (played by Man Soo Yoon), who trains/mentors Guerrero’s opponents.

Wook tells a nameless alum (played by Jose Manuel), who’s gettng ready to fight Guerrero: “He’s a perfect fighter. … He left his conscience behind. He doesn’t follow doctrines or laws. He’s an animal!”

There’s also another elder sage named Mujer Condor (played by Gina Agaud), who does her own kind of training that is more rooted in mysticism. “The ego,” she says, “is the inner Satan. If you want to kill him, you have to see him first.” Part of her training involves teaching people how to walk on the edge of a wooden basket.

The movie also has an unhinged villain named Kalari (played by Eyal Meyer), who doesn’t have the biggest muscles but he uses his unpredictability as a way to catch his opponents off-guard. Kalari wears a lot of heavy eyeliner and looks like he’s auditioning to be in an emo rock band. Guerrero’s other opponents are completely generic and nameless.

“Fist of the Condor” has almost non-stop action in many well-choregraphed stunts. It’s not a movie for people who are easily offended by on-screen violence that goes beyond the norm. For example, there’s a scene where Guerrero beats up and urinates on an opponent. The movie’s climactic scene is especially bloody.

Since “Fist of the Condor” is a martial arts movie, this isn’t the type of film that’s going to have intellectual dialogue or lots of character development. The outcome of the movie can easily be predicted. However, there’s a fairly interesting story about twin brothers who are pitted against each other in ways where they become more dangerous to each other than any strangers who want to take them down.

Well Go USA released “Fist of the Condor” in select U.S. cinemas on April 4, 2023. Hi-YAH! premiered the movie on April 7, 2023. The movie was released on digital and Blu-ray on May 23, 2023.

Review: ‘The Eternal Memory,’ starring Paulina Urrutia and Augusto Góngora

February 4, 2023

by Carla Hay

Augusto Góngora and Paulina Urrutia in “The Eternal Memory” (Photo courtesy of MTV Documentary Films)

“The Eternal Memory”

Directed by Maite Alberdi

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Chile, the documentary film “The Eternal Memory” features an all-Chilean group of people representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The documentary chronicles several months in the lives of former actress/politician Paulina Urrutia and her husband Augusto Góngora, a former TV journalist who covered Chile’s civil unrest in the 1970s and 1980s, and who now has Alzheimer’s disease.

Culture Audience: “The Eternal Memory” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in non-fiction stories about couples who have a partner living with Alzheimer’s disease and an upper-middle-class perspective of Chilean history.

Paulina Urrutia and Augusto Góngora in “The Eternal Memory” (Photo courtesy of MTV Documentary Films)

“The Eternal Memory” is a beautiful but slow-paced love story between two Chilean spouses who are living with the husband’s dementia. This intimate documentary shows paralells of the couple remembering their romance while not wanting to forget the sins and suffering of Chile under the rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet. Viewers of “The Eternal Memory” who are expecting a lot of drama in this movie will be disappointed or will have their patience tested. But for viewers willing to immerse themselves in this couple’s world, “The Eternal Memory” can be a thoughtful and emotionally moving experience.

Directed by Maite Alberdi, “The Eternal Memory” was filmed for an unspecified period of time in the early 2020s. The movie is a combination of home-video footage filmed for the documentary and archival footage from other sources. “The Eternal Memory” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the grand jury prize in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.

Alberdi previously directed the Oscar-nominated 2020 documentary “The Mole Agent,” which was about a Chilean senior citizen who was hired to check himself into a group retirement home, in order to find out more about the residents’ emotional well-being. “The Mole Agent” has themes of old age and the loneliness that elderly people can experience when they lose their memories or feel neglected. These themes are also in “The Eternal Memory,” but there’s a broader and more political context to the documentary that “The Mole Agent” did not have.

The two spouses at the center of “The Eternal Memory” are former actress-turned-politician Paulina “Pauli” Urrutia and former TV news journalist Augusto Góngora. The documentary shows repeatedly how devoted they are to each other, and they still have a romantic spark between them after being together for many years. Urrutia and Góngora became a couple in 1997, and they got married in 2016. Urrutia and Góngora have no children together, but some of the couple’s archival home videos in the documentary show them spending time with Góngora’s children Javiera and Cristóbal, from his previous marriage to Patricia Naut.

Born in 1969, Urrutia pursued an acting career since she was a child, eventually landing roles in Chilean movies and TV shows in the 1980s and 1990s. In the 21st century, she segued into politics. She was elected general secretary and president of the Chilean Actors Union (Sidarte) in 2001. And in 2006, she was appointed president of the National Council of Culture and the Arts.

Góngora also spent most of his life in the public eye. Born in 1952, Góngora is best known for his work as a TV news journalist in Chile, where he was a leader of the underground “Teleanálisis” newscast in the 1980s. He was a director and executive producer at Televisión Nacional de Chile (TVN) from 1980 to 2010. He also became a documentary filmmaker, with credits that include “The Weapons of Peace,” “Forbidden Children” and “The Seed of the Wind.”

In addition, Góngora dabbled in acting. A scene in the documentary shows Urrutia and Góngora reminiscing about the late filmmaker/actor Raúl Ruiz, who acted with Góngora in the 1997 miniseries “La Recta Provincia,” the only on-screen acting role that Góngora ever had. In “The Eternal Memory” scene, Urrutia asks Góngora if he remembers if Ruiz is alive or dead. Góngora says that he knows Ruiz is dead, and he remembers that Ruiz did not want to die.

Góngora was known for delivering hard-hitting investigations of the country’s civil unrest during the 1973 to 1990 reign of right-wing military dictator Augusto Pinochet. During this turbulent era in Chilean history, more than 3,000 people went missing or were found murdered. Thousands of children were orphaned. A scene in the “The Eternal Memory” shows Góngora and Urrutia morosely remembering a mutual friend named Jose Manuel Parada, who was kidnapped during the Pinochet regime.

Having to report these atrocities and other tragedies left a deep impact on Góngora, who seems to still be haunted by some of these memories. In addition to archival news footage of Góngora on the job as a TV news journalist, there’s footage of Góngora speaking about social injustice while promoting the non-fiction book “Chile: La Memoria Prohibida,” which he co-authored with other journalists. (“Chile: La Memoria Prohibida” means “Chile: The Forbidden Memory” in Spanish.)

Archival footage of Góngora shows that he was one of the first TV news journalists in Chile who advocated for citizen video journalism, where everyday citizens who are not professional journalists filmed their own footage that mainstream TV news would later used and give credit to these non-journalists who filmed the footage. Long before social media and viral videos ever existed, citizen video journalism was a form of journalism that started to increase in 1980s, when portable video cameras became more affordable to the average person.

Góngora is seen commenting in some 1980s footage, where she shares his thoughts about citizen video journalism: “We had the wonderful task of displaying the images of a country that was invisible in Chile, but a country that existed. We started giving an everyday version that did not appear on any Chilean TV station.”

There’s some archival footage of Urrutia when she was a politician, but the tone of “The Forgotten Memory” seems to be that the work that Góngora did was much more important than Urrutia’s work. Góngora’s career gets most of the screen time in the segments that show Góngora’s and Urrutia’s work lives before they retired. Urrutia is now Góngora’s full-time caretaker. If she has any help inside the home, it’s not shown in the documentary.

“The Forgotten Memory” has an abundance of everyday footage of Urrutia and Góngora at home talking about their lives. The movie opens with Góngora waking up in bed and remembering his name but not remembering who Urrutia is. She has to remind him that she is his wife, and she used to be an actress. She also tells him that he has two siblings and that his children’s names are Cristóbal and Javiera.

Urrutia and Góngora are shown doing couple activities, such as going for walks together and having meals together. She sometimes has to feed him because he can’t feed himself. During their walks outside, Góngora occasionally expresses mild frustration that he can’t walk as fast and as nimbly as he could when he was younger. They are physically affectionate with each other, such as when Urrutia lovingly dries Góngora with a towel after he gets out of a shower, or when they hold each other and kiss like partners who are best friends and in love.

Some of the most emotionally tender moments in the documentary are when Góngora is fully aware of who Urrutia is and expresses love and gratitude for her being in his life. In a scene where the spouses are having dinner together, he tells Urrutia in an appreciative manner, “You have given me so many things.” He also calls her “beautiful” while she silently sheds tears and smiles. In another scene, Góngora supportively watches in the audience when Urrutia performs on stage for a local theater group.

Through it all, Urrutia is extraordinarily patient, kind and emotionally strong. The documentary never shows her having any tearful meltdowns, expressing fear, or admitting that things can be sad and overwhelming when living with someone who has dementia. In that respect, “The Forgotten Memory” unfortunately gives the impression that it’s glossing over any emotional stress that Urrutia is no doubt having from being a caretaker of spouse with dementia.

When “The Forgotten Memory” tries to make Urrutia look so saint-like, it actually becomes a flaw in the documentary, which seems to leave out uncomfortable truths about the emotional toll and sometimes resentment that can build up when someone has the entire responsibility of taking care of a loved one with dementia. No one is realistically that saint-like all the time. Because the original footage in “The Forgotten Memory” is filmed cinéma vérité-style, there are no “talking head” interviews to provide outside analysis of what is going on with this couple.

Perhaps in an effort to give the image that she’s a “superwoman” spouse, Urrutia doesn’t really open up about any inner turmoil she is feeling, or her thoughts on preparing for the inevitable end of Góngora’s life. In front of the camera, she is upbeat but very emotionally guarded in other ways. The documentary would have been better and perhaps more helpful to people going through similar situations if Urrutia had been candid about her vulnerabilities of feeling emotional pain, doubt and hopelessness.

“The Eternal Memory” looks more honest in the uncensored moments when Góngora starts rambling about his frustrations. There’s a scene where Góngora gets very distraught because he knows he’s losing his memory, and he laments the loss of friends. He also says he doesn’t want to go on like this any more and that he feels alone. Urrutia’s response is to hug him and assure him that he’s not alone.

What remains unspoken but is seen in the documentary is that Urrutia and Góngora are very much alone during most of their time at home. The documentary doesn’t really show them having any visitors on a regular basis. It’s never fully explored how the couple feels about being “abandoned” by the friends who faded away from the couple’s lives.

One can imagine that the couple had plenty of friends when Urrutia and Góngora had elite positions that gave Urrutia and Góngora a certain amount of fame. Where are those friends now? Observant viewers will notice that this is the type of loss that is perhaps too painful for Urrutia and Góngora to talk about at length on camera.

It’s implied but not said out loud that these former friends were too uncomfortable with seeing Góngora living with Alzheimer’s disease. In one of the movie’s emotionally touching scenes, Góngora mournfully says out loud to himself, “No one asks me, ‘Remember when’ anymore.” As for Góngora’s adult children, they are not in the documentary’s new footage, and there is no explanation for their absence.

Urrutia and Góngora might feel a certain sense of isolation and abandonment from people who used to be close to them, but “The Eternal Memory” wonderfully shows how these two spouses have each other in a loving and emotionally healthy relationship. In the documentary, Góngora tells Urrutia that he doesn’t want to live for many more years. Whatever happens to this husband and wife, they both have had lives well-lived, with “The Eternal Documentary” being an impressive testament to their enduring love. The movie doesn’t tell the whole story of their relationship, but what is shown is meaningful and inspiring.

UPDATE: MTV Documentary Films will release “The Eternal Memory” in New York City on August 11, 2023, and in Los Angeles on August 18, 2023.

Review: ‘The Mole Agent,’ starring Sergio Chamy, Rómulo Aitken, Marta Olivares, Berta Ureta, Zoila González, Petronila Abarca and Rubira Olivares

April 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Sergio Chamy and Rómulo Aitken in “The Mole Agent” (Photo by Alvaro Reyes/Gravitas Ventures)

“The Mole Agent”

Directed by Maite Alberdi

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in San Francisco, Chile, the documentary film “The Mole Agent” features an all-Chilean group of people who are connected in some way the San Francisco Nursing Home.

Culture Clash: A widower in his 80s is hired to be a spy in the nursing home to find out if there is abuse or neglect in this residential facility.

Culture Audience: “The Mole Agent” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in non-fiction stories about life in retirement homes, even if some of the movie’s scenes look very staged and contrived.

Berta “Bertita” Ureta and Sergio Chamy in “The Mole Agent” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“The Mole Agent” offers an entertaining and emotionally moving portrait of humanity in a Chilean retirement home. However, the “spy” aspect of the story seems as contrived and cutesy as some of the documentary’s scenes. There are several parts of the movie that look more like a scripted dramedy instead of a genuine cinéma vérité documentary. But if viewers are willing to enjoy the ride, they’ll be charmed by the people in the movie and the film’s overall life-affirming messages.

Directed by Maite Alberdi, “The Mole Agent” takes place primarily at the San Francisco Retirement Home in San Francisco, Chile. It’s a living facility that houses about 50 to 60 people (mostly women), and almost all the residents are over the age of 70. It’s here that an “undercover” investigation takes place that serves as the basis of this movie.

In the beginning of “The Mole Agent,” it’s explained that a daughter of one of the retirement home’s residents wants to investigate the retirement home to see if there is any secret abuse and neglect taking place there. How does it get investigated? An elderly man is recruited from the public to check into the facility as a resident for three months.

The movie shows the newspaper ad that was placed to look for this would-be spy or “mole agent.” The description reads: “Elderly male needed, retired between 80 and 90 years old, independent, discreet and competent with technology.” A man identified as Rómulo Aitken is shown interviewing some job applicants.

Is Aitken a private investigator? An actor? The movie never says, but he has the role of hiring and training the person who gets the job. There’s a montage of elderly men being interviewed to comical effect. When they’re told what the nature of the job is, they don’t seem to have a problem with spying, but a few have a problem with the technology requirement of the job. One man, whether he knows it or not, disqualifies himself when he says that he thinks the Internet is useless.

The person who ends up getting hired is an affable 83-year-old widower from Santiago named Sergio Chamy. He explains that his wife died a few months earlier and he’s an independent person who doesn’t have to consult anyone about where he wants to live. “I’m the one who makes decisions about myself,” Chamy says.

After he’s hired, there are the inevitable scenes played for laughs of Aitken showing the technology-deficient Chamy how to use FaceTime and WhatsApp on an iPhone. This newly appointed “spy” is also given a pair of eyeglasses that are equipped with a surveillance camera. Some of the movie’s scenes include footage taken from these spy eyeglasses.

And he’s even given a magnifying glass, as if the filmmakers want to make him look like a Sherlock Holmes type of character. Chamy actually never needs to use the magnifying glass at the retirement home, but it’s amusing and eye-catching to see him test out the magnifying glass. There are several scenes like this in the movie that seem staged for optics, rather than chronicling any real detective work.

Before he leaves to check into the retirement home, Chamy and his adult daughter Dalal meet with Aitken to get any questions answered. Dalal is concerned about the legalities of what her father is doing, but Aitken assures her that the filmmaking crew has permission to film in the retirement home. Aitken tells them that the filmmakers have told the retirement home that they are making a documentary about Chamy. However, based on the level of access that the filmmaking crew had in several private rooms of other residents, it seems pretty obvious that certain people who worked at the retirement home knew exactly what this documentary was about ahead of time.

During this meeting, Chamy reassures his daughter that checking into this retirement home is something he wants to do because it will help him take his mind off of his widower grief. He says that this investigative assignment will be “mentally tiring but mentally liberating,” because he won’t be “thinking of your mother all the time.” He and Dalal get a little bit choked up with emotions when he mentions the late matriarch of the family.

Chamy is told that the client’s mother in the retirement home is named Sonia Perez. He is tasked with keeping an eye on Perez to see if she is being treated well. The residential rooms have sheets of paper taped to the entry doors with the name of each person who lives in the room. And so, with “Pink Panther”-like music as part of the movie’s score (which was written by Vincent van Warmerdam), the movie shows Chamy going from room to room, looking for Sonia Perez’s name on the front of doors.

“The Mole Agent” makes it look like he can’t find her for at least two or three days, but the editing of this movie doesn’t make it clear exactly how long it really took. Aitken tells Chamy that he shouldn’t ask any of the retirement home staffers about Perez because it would arouse suspicion. And so, Chamy asks some residents if they know where Perez’s room is and they claim they’ve never heard of her. It’s all just leads to more contrived-looking series of scenes of Chamy lurking in hallways and taking notes.

And then there’s the inevitable moment when he’s snooping around and someone suddenly comes out of a room and startles him. And so, he quickly pretends that he wasn’t looking at the names of people on the doors. If he could’ve done some stereotypical “I’m just minding my own business” whistling, the filmmakers probably would’ve loved it. Considering that Chamy has no real experience as a detective, any “investigating” he does looks purely for show. There are parts of this movie that look like Chamy knew in advance that he had to do some acting to create footage that the filmmakers could use.

“The Mole Agent” makes it look like every day he’s in the retirement home, Chamy writes notes in a journal and calls in to Aitken to give a summary of what he found out that day. He’s also told that he has to this report is a daily requirement for the assignment. Cue the scenes of Chamy fumbling to upload some of the secret photos and videos that he took in the retirement phone.

Chamy eventually finds Perez, but it turns out that she’s very aloof and doesn’t like to talk very much. She rebuffs his attempts to have conversations with her. The movie then turns into something else: Chamy ends up becoming friendly with and emotionally attached to other residents at the retirement home. All of his new friends happen to be women.

The women he forms the closest bonds with are

  • Berta “Bertita” Ureta, who makes it known as soon as she sees Chamy that she’s attracted to him.
  • Marta Olivares, who has a child-like demeanor and a mischievous side to her.
  • Petronila “Petita” Abarca, who likes to read poetry as a way to connect with other people.
  • Rubira Olivares, who shows signs of depression and other mental-health issues.
  • Zoila González, who is very religious and says that she often talks to Jesus Christ.

Over the course of the movie, Chamy acts less like a detective and more like a personal counselor/therapist to the women. He has a positive and upbeat attitude that lifts the residents’ spirits. And he is tolerant and understanding of any quirks that they might have.

For example, Oliveras is in such an infantile state of mind that she still thinks her mother is still alive. The retirement home’s staffers indulge this delusion by calling on Oliveras on the phone and pretending to be her mother, so Oliveras won’t feel her family has forgotten about her. Chamy plays along with this ruse too, because he knows that it’s the type of lie that helps Oliveras cope with her loneliness. He’s also patient with her when she plays little pranks on him, such as stealing items out of his pockets.

Viewers will amused at the way Ureta turns up the charm in her flirtation with Chamy. During his first or second day at the retirement home, he’s eating by himself in the cafeteria-styled dining room. She goes over to him and gives him her dessert.

Later, they have a private conversation alone together and Ureta doesn’t even try to hide her delight when she finds out he’s a recent widower. At one point in the movie, she blurts in a half-joking way, while Chamy and other people are in the room, that the retirement home would be an ideal place for a wedding. During a dance party at the home, Ureta tells Chamy that she’s in love with him, and he eventually tells her if he’s interested in pursuing a romance with her or not.

And what about the detective work that Chamy was hired to do? The most meaningful parts of the movie aren’t Chamy’s spying shenanigans but the more genuine moments that show how Chamy helps the residents cope with the emotional pain of feeling lonely and abandoned. When he sees firsthand that some of the home’s residents don’t have anyone visiting them, it makes him appreciate how lucky he is to have a loving family.

In the movie, Chamy says that has two daughters, one son and five grandchildren. Chamy turned 84 years old in the retirement home while filming this documentary. Dalal, Chamy’s son and a granddaughter and grandson visit him on his birthday. At the birthday party for Chamy, the staffers surprise him by having a singer serenade him, and he is moved to tears. He might have checked into the facility to try to find abuse and neglect, but by the end of this story, he finds a sense of renewed hope about life that the movie obviously wants viewers to feel too.

Gravitas Ventures released “The Mole Agent” in select U.S. cinemas on August 28, 2020, and on digital and VOD on September 1, 2020. PBS’s “POV” series premiered “The Mole Agent” on January 25, 2021. The movie is also available for streaming on Hulu.

Review: ‘The Wolf House,’ starring Amalia Kassai and Rainer Krausse

May 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

“The Wolf House” (Image courtesy of KimStim)

“The Wolf House”

Directed by Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña

Spanish and German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Chile, the animated film “The Wolf House” tells the story of a woman named Maria, who has escaped from a cult of German religious fanatics, and the house that comes to life after she finds refuge there.

Culture Clash: The nightmarish story of Maria’s isolation in the house has various hallucinations where she is sometimes at odds with entities in the house that morph into other beings.

Culture Audience: “The Wolf House” will appeal primarily to people who like avant-garde animation.

“The Wolf House” (Image courtesy of KimStim)

To understand the experimental animated film “The Wolf House,” it’s better that people know in advance that the movie is inspired by the story of Colonia Dignidad, a real-life cult founded in in 1961 in Chile by a German fugitive Paul Schäfer, who ended up being a convicted child abuser. Not knowing this historical background for the film will leave viewers very confused over the point of this often-incoherent movie, which has striking visuals but lacks a well-written storyline.

“The Wolf House” has a movie-within-a-movie concept, since the it’s supposed to be “found footage” of a propaganda film made by a German colony in Chile and narrated by a man called Wolf (voiced by Rainer Krausse), whose voice is heard at the beginning and at the end of the film. Viewers can assume that Wolf is the cult leader, based on he says in the movie’s last scene.

During the course of the movie, the story is told of a young woman named Maria, who lived in the community but was punished for letting three little pigs escape. She was kept in solitary confinement for 100 days and 100 nights until she escaped into the woods and hid in an isolated house.

“The wolf is coming,” Maria says. “But he will not catch me.” When Maria  (voiced by Amalia Kassai) begins speaking, she takes over the narration of the majority of the movie that shows what happens inside the house while she’s hiding.

What takes place inside the house is like a fever dream, and it’s up to the viewers to interpret what could be real and what could be Maria’s imagination. The entire movie plays out like a psychedelic, nightmarish fairy tale. Just like Lewis Carroll’s Alice who went down the rabbit hole, Maria in “The Wolf House” experiences her own version of a weird and confined alternative world.

Maria asks for help with food, shelter and water—and a tree comes to life to help her. In the house, she finds two pigs, which she names Pedro and Ana. She gives them water and notices that they have human hands. Small animals also give Maria an apple as a thank you gift. Ana and Pedro eventually morph into two human children, with Pedro as a boy who’s younger than Ana. In “The Wolf House,” Kassai also voices the characters of Ana and Pedro.

Maria reads a book to Pedro called “The Dog and the House,” which is about a disobedient dog who jumped out of a window and was never found again but is presumed dead since the wind brought back the smell of the dog’s broken bones and other injuries. The book is an obvious parallel to what Maria might experience, and it serves as a warning/cautionary tale to anyone else who might think of escaping the cult.

The quirky animation of “The Wolf House” was shot frame-by-frame with digital photography. The ever-morphing characters were presented in two ways: (1) as animated puppets made out of paper, cardboard, masking tape and paint and (2) as animated drawings on the walls of the house. Nothing really stays still in the house, and all is not what they seem to be. Walls and furniture can turn into body parts; people can emerge from different objects; and human characters can change their physical size and hair color, or can morph back and forth into animals or other different things.

When Maria is feeling safe and comfortable, she speaks in Spanish. When she’s feeling angry or threatened, she speaks in German. It’s a clear metaphor for her true self being a Spanish-speaking Chilean, while she takes on the persona of her German cult tormenters when she’s having negative thoughts.

When Maria thinks of humans in degrading terms, they’re visualized as pigs. And when Pedro and Ana morph from being Latino-looking children into blond-haired German-looking children, it’s a metaphor for Nazi-like conformity that gives preference to Aryan-looking people. These types of metaphors in “The Wolf House” are why the movie has a deeper meaning if audiences know in advance that the disturbing history of Colonia Dignidad is the basis of “The Wolf House” screenplay.

“The Wolf House” directors Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña wrote the screenplay with Alejandra Moffat. The script seems to be an unfocused secondary priority that just goes with the flow of whatever strange visual effects that the filmmakers wanted to infuse throughout the story. However, the art direction from León, Cociña and Natalia Geisse succeeds on a much higher artistic level than the movie’s script. There are some truly unique images that make “The Wolf House” a treat for people who might be interested in a more avant-garde alternative to Laika animated films.

For people who don’t have the benefit of knowing what inspired “The Wolf House,” the visuals might be enough to hold an audience’s interest. Unfortunately, Kassai’s narration, which has a whispering sing-song tone, can be extremely grating after a while. “The Wolf House” is definitely not a family film (since children will not understand the movie at all), nor is it a mainstream film for adults. Ultimately, the movie’s concept needed to better articulated in its writing, and “The Wolf House” probably would have been better off as a short film.

KimStim released “The Wolf House” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on May 15, 2020.

Review: ‘The Cordillera of Dreams,’ starring Pablo Salas, Jorge Baradit, Francisco Gazitúa, Javiera Parra and Alvara Amigo

February 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

“The Cordillera of Dreams” (Photo courtesy of Icarus Films)

“The Cordillera of Dreams”

Directed by Patricio Guzmán

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: This documentary examines the past and present political culture of Chile, with the Andes mountain range as a backdrop.

Culture Clash: Survivors of Chile’s turbulent history tell their stories of what it was like to live during the political battles of democracy versus dictatorship from the 1970s to the present.

Culture Audience: “The Cordillera of Dreams” will appeal primarily to people who have an interest in South American history and nature.

“The Cordillera of Dreams” (Photo courtesy if Icarus Films)

“The Cordillera of Dreams” is part travel documentary, part Chilean history lesson and part autobiography. (The word “cordillera” means mountain range.) The movie, which is narrated in voiceover only by director Patricio Guzmán, takes viewers on a journey through Santiago and other parts of Chile, to get first-person accounts of the often painful experiences of living through turbulent times, The regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, is put under a particular spotlight in the film.

“The Cordillera of Dreams” is the third film in Guzmán’s trilogy of documentaries about how Chile’s natural land ties into Chile’s sociological history. The trilogy began with  2011’s “Nostalgia for the Light” and continued with 2015’s “The Pearl Button.” But before “The Cordillera of Dreams” gets to the history of Chilean politics during the Pinochet regime, the documentary begins by immersing viewers into the idea that while different types of government might come and go and Chile, the Andes Mountains have remained the one true constant for changing eras and social customs in Chile.

The cinematography (by Samuel Lahu) is absolutely stunning, especially when taking in the majestic views of the Andes Mountains. (The cinematography is probably one of the main reasons why “The Cordillera of Dreams” won the prize for Best Documentary at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.) The documentary interviews a few people who live in the Andes, including sculptor Francisco Gazitúa, who says: “When you live in the Andes for many years, it feels like you’re inside a large, rocky container … It’s a labyrinth.”

Another sculptor named Vicente Gajadro, who likes to extract rocks from the Andes to see what’s inside, had this to say about living in these natural surroundings: “The Cordillera is a great mystery. I believe it’s a cultural landmark.” He also says of the enormous mountains: “They protect me, but they also isolate me.”

Alvaro Amigo, a volcanologist, comments on the awe-inspiring landscape: “When I look at the Cordillera, I see millions of years of evolution exposed.” And writer Jorge Baradit says that the Cordillera is “like a sea that makes us an island.”

Guzmán says that crossing the Cordillera is like arriving in a place that’s in the faraway past. “Everything seems unreal. I feel somewhat like an alien.” He says his earliest childhood memory of the Cordillera was seeing it on matchboxes. The director then shows viewers the house he used to live in when he was young. In stark contrast to the natural and clean-looking beauty of the Andes, the abandoned house is now in an area that looks like a junkyard. Guzmán, who no longer lives in Chile, says that going to his childhood home is a sad reminder of a more peaceful time in Chile, before the political “earthquake” of September 11, 1973.

On that day, when Guzmán was 32 years old, his life and the lives of millions of other Chileans changed forever, as a military coup d’état overthrew Socialist President Salvador Allende and elevated to power Pinochet as a dictatorial and brutal leader who ordered the persecution of left-wing political activists and other left-leaning Allende supporters. Many innocent people were also caught up in the turmoil, as the police and other military raided cities. There were widespread kidnappings, tortures and murders of thousands of people.

It’s here, near the middle of the film, that the story shifts to the urban bustle of Santiago, Chile’s capital city. Guzmán revisits the Stadium in Santiago, where thousands of male civilians, ages 15 to 65, were taken from their homes by police, arrested, and then rounded up and held as prisoners at the stadium, where they often tortured. Guzmán was one of those prisoners, and he remembers how just a few years before the coup d’état, he had been a happy World Cup spectator at the stadium when Italy played against Chile.

Guzmán was a political prisoner for two weeks, and even though the military put him under duress to tell them where he had put his documentary film footage of the military committing crimes, he refused to tell them. The experience of being imprisoned was so traumatic for Guzmán that he left Chile and hasn’t lived there since. Meanwhile, sculptor Francisco Gazitúa said he was under house arrest for four years.

Another person who shares their memories of the beginning of the Pinochet regime is singer Javiera Parra, remembers as a child seeing the police raiding people’s homes and feeling fear and uncertainty as military tanks would pass by when she was in a schoolyard. The feelings and insecurity and devastation still remain with the survivors, and will probably stay with them for the rest of their lives when they think about this disturbing time in Chile’s history.”

Perhaps the most fascinating person in the documentary is photo/video journalist Pablo Salas, who has been documenting Santiago street life since the 1970s and has almost miraculously never been arrested, even though he’s been in the middle of countless protests and violence in the streets. The documentary includes some archival footage that Salas was generous enough to share, giving insight into how chaotic and brutal life was on the streets of Santiago during the Pinochet regime. (The documentary also shows Salas’ home office, which is stacked to the brim with tapes he’s saved over the years.)

The archival footage shows scenes of people literally being dragged away by police for no apparent reason, as family members and friends try in vain to stop this horror from happening. People are seen getting beaten or blasted with water by police. And then there are the full-on riots that are shown. Although life in Chile is not as violently out-of-control as it was back then, there is still a lot of political unrest.

Salas, who obviously has a passion for it job, keeps documenting it all. He says the biggest difference now, compared to when he first started, is that more citizens can videorecord what’s happening, thanks to smartphones. He says he finds this change refreshing but also sometimes annoying when he wants to get footage but other non-journalist people are in the way trying to get their best shots too.

The documentary takes a brief, somewhat distracting detour into examining the trains that carry copper, Chile’s biggest natural resource. Even more interesting is the haunting footage inside Pinochet’s former offices, which are now abandoned but symbolize a period of Chilean history that the people cannot and should forget.

Guzmán has an almost poetic way of demonstrating the rot and neglect among the beauty of the Andes, as the documentary shows a junkyard of abandoned cars. It’s an obvious metaphor for Chile’s abandoned dreams for having a completely peaceful democracy. But Guzmán and many others haven’t given up hope in Chile. Just like items in a junkyard, perhaps what was abandoned can be salvaged and restored.

Icarus Films released “The Cordillera of Dreams” in New York City February 12, 2020, and will release the film in Los Angeles on February 21, 2020, followed by released in several other cities in the U.S. and Canada in the subsequent weeks. The movie was originally released in Chile and other countries in 2019.

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