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Radical History Review 85 (2003) 272-281

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History and Memory in Neoliberal Chile:
Patricio Guzmán's Obstinate Memory and The Battle of Chile

Thomas Miller Klubock

Obstinate Memory, directed by Patricio Guzmán. In Spanish with English subtitles. First Run/Icarus Films, 1997.
The Battle of Chile: The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie, directed by Patricio Guzmán. In Spanish with English subtitles. First Run/Icarus Films, 1975.
The Battle of Chile: The Coup d'Etat, directed by Patricio Guzmán. In Spanish with English subtitles. First Run/Icarus Films, 1976.
The Battle of Chile: The Power of the People, directed by Patricio Guzmán. In Spanish with English subtitles. First Run/Icarus Films, 1978.

In 1973, September 11 also fell on a Tuesday and, in Santiago de Chile, produced a tragic act of international terrorism. The Chilean military, with support from the U.S. government, brought down the democratically elected socialist Unidad Popular (Popular Unity, UP) government of Salvador Allende (1970-73) and initiated one of Latin America's longest and bloodiest dictatorships. In another striking coincidence, the terrorism of September 11, 1973, involved planes; fighter jets belonging [End Page 272] to the Chilean air force bombarded the presidential palace (La Moneda), leaving this symbol of Chilean democracy in flames.

Extraordinary scenes of the assault on La Moneda open Patricio Guzmán's recent documentary, Memoria obstinada (Obstinate memory, 1997), as they began his award-winning three-part documentary of the Allende years, La batalla de Chile (The battle of Chile, 1975, 1976, 1978). Memoria obstinada then jumps to the present, as Guzmán and his crew go on a tour of the presidential palace in the mid-1990s. Included with the crew is a former member of Allende's presidential guard, who recounts his experiences of the 1973 coup, including being shot in the attack on the presidential palace and imprisoned in a concentration camp. Subsequently, a number of the other members of the guard who survived the coup look at photos of the attack on La Moneda and identify the fate of their comrades who appear in the images held at gunpoint by soldiers: most are dead or disappeared.

During first the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-90) and then the governments of the center-left Concertación de los Partidos por la Democracia (Coalition of Parties for Democracy, 1990-present), which includes Allende's Socialist Party, La batalla de Chile was not shown in Chile. Even after the lifting of military censorship during the transition to democracy, Guzmán could not find a distributor willing to show his films. In Memoria obstinada, Guzmán returns to the country after years of exile to show his film to groups of students and to interview people who had participated in making La batalla de Chile or who had appeared in the footage of the revolutionary process. The censoring of La batalla de Chile stands in for the problem of memory and repression. After almost two decades of military rule, how do the participants in the making of the documentary remember the events it documented? What is the relationship between contemporary recollections of events and the documentary images in La batalla de Chile, between memory and history? How, in a context in which both the military and the democratic opposition seem to have colluded in producing amnesia as a condition for democratization, does memory remain obstinate? Or, does it? Is the claim to history asserted by personal memory a condition for producing change in the present? How can a generation born and raised under military rule remember and record the Chilean road to socialism, as Allende called it, and the devastating state terrorism of the military regime?

In Memoria obstinada, Guzmán explores these questions through interviews that focus on individual memories. He talks to the member of Allende's guard about his experiences during and after September 11, recalls his own detention in Chile's Estadio Nacional (National Stadium), and interviews friends and family members of La batalla de Chile's cinematographer, Jorge...


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pp. 272-281
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Archived 2004
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