State of Siege: a review
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 3, Number 2, May 1973
- pp. 33-38
- Additional Information
FILM REVIEWS Fiba nevlews one Intended to pnovlde lilstcnians and teachers wltri cnitical evaluations ofa fallms both In cument distribution and those suitable faon classnoom use. Reviews o fa current faeatures will be assigned to specialists In the >¿lven faleld, while all membens are Invited to contribute shorten critiques o fa fallms they have used In the classnooom. Each Issue ofa Film ê Hlstony will corny nevlews ofa both kinds and we welcome your comments. Unless otherwise noted, all faluns faon the classnoom are 16mm. STATE OF SIEGE: a review(cinema 5, 1973) by Alan Levin "State of Siege" is 20th century Cowboys and Indians. . .with a twist. It is produced, directed and written by the Indians. It is a film classic, revisionist genre. The Cowboys are Americans delivering foreign aid overseas. The Indians are Third World revolutionaries who know you don't get something for nothing. To get specific, "State of Siege" (SOS) is the work of Constantin Costa-Gavras, director of "Z" and "The Confession", and Franco Solinas, who wrote "Battle of Algiers" and "Burn". At the beginning of their film they say, "The events in this film actually took place in a South American country." Nobody has challenged their facts, and many have corroborated the story they tell of American aid for a Death Squad unit of the Uruguayan police. We see the police in action, torturing and murdering the political opposition in a small country of less than 3 million, struggling with all the problems of under-development . To write their script, Costa-Gavras and Solinas made several trips into Uruguay and met secretly with the urban guerillas there, the Tupamaros. The film itself could not be shot there - even opposition newspapers are closed down, and trade unions have been driven underground . SOS was filmed in Chile, with the permission of the quasi Marxist government of Salvador Allende. 33 The Tupamaros, who made world-wide headlines, with their daring bank hold ups and kidnapping resident foreign big shots, took their name from a rebellious Inca Indian chief who didn't like what the Spaniards were doing to his people back in 1780 when Imperialism was primitive and direct. The chief, Tupac Amaru ended up drawn and quartered by the Spanish as they kept loading their ships with Inca gold. SOS tells us how Imperialism works today. It is the re-creation and dramatization of a real, if minor, crisis in American foreign policy that generated a few weeks of newspaper stories back in 1970. A U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) official was kidnapped in Montevideo by the Tupamaros, who demanded release of 150 political prisoners for him. In real life, the A. I. D. official was Dan Mitrione, one time police chief in Richmond, Indiana, who was called a "traffic and communications" expert by the U.S. government. In fact, he was an expert in police training techniques who before showing up in Uruguay had done stints of service with the thug governments of Brazil and the Dominican Republic. But Mitrione, as played by Yves Montand, is not simplisticly dealt with. He is no stereotyped ugly American, and he must have been a pretty good cop before he got involved in International politics. Costa-Gavras says he built Mitrione' s character from talking about him with the Tupamaros, who respected him as a patriot. Montand adds his own great skills to making Mitrione complex but committed. At one point Mitrione says something like, "Governments come and go, but the police remain." He prizes stability and sees that as a genuine contribution made by police. Once ensconced in his Montevideo villa, Mitrione' s pattern of daily life takes on the predictability of a commuter's. Each morning he's at the door to say good-bye to his kids (Mitrione had 9) as the bus picks them up for the American School. Then his chauffer drives him to his office, not in the A. I. D. building, but at the central police headquarters where he deals with the top echelon of the Uruguayan military and security apparatus. Earlier we have seen Mitrione as a leader in Washington, D. C. at the International Police Academy run by...