The Movie Waffler New Release Review - 1976 | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - 1976

1976 review
A woman's holiday is disrupted when she discovers a political fugitive being harboured by a local priest.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Manuela Martelli

Starring: Aline Kuppenheim, Nicolás Sepúlveda, Hugo Medina, Alejandro Goic, Amalia Kassai

1976 poster

1976, Manuela Martelli's (with writing duties shared by Alejandra Moffat) gorgeous and sinister feature length debut takes place during the third year of Pinochet's reign as the de facto dictator of Chile. Via the Caravan of Death and the secret police's Villa Grimaldi (the head of which was later sentenced to more than 300 years in prison for being evil), Pinochet made Chile his sultanate: a paranoid regime where hundreds were disappeared, thousands were tortured, and all else lived in the shadow of this complete piece of shit. Perhaps this is why, in pantone contrast, Martelli's film opens with a scene implicating and using vivid, unnatural colour. We meet Carmen (Aline Küppenheim) in a boutique DIY store as she instructs a mixing technician as to the exact shade of paint she requires. In fragmented close ups and tilted angles we see hands pointing out a coral sky in a glossy brochure, the camera panning to a screen filling shot of blue paint dribbled into churning shade of pink. Eschewing the grammar of establishing shots, the close ups are disembodied and, as an index, we are forced to listen closely to the shared dialogue... along with the disruptive events occurring somewhere outside the shop: "They are taking me"/"Shut up motherfucker." The film's title locates us in the relatively early days of Pinochet's regime, where the bourgeois patrons of bijou decoration stores were perhaps one step removed from the encroaching threat, and blissfully unaware of forthcoming events. "What was that?," Carmen asks (now revealed as a well-heeled, attractive woman of a certain age). "Something in the street." the assistant desultorily replies.

1976 review

Carmen requires the paint for her project redecorating the family beach home. After all, she needs something to get on with. Her husband is a doctor with certain affiliations and therefore Very Busy, while her children are grown up. The patriarchal infrastructure has prevented Carmen from being a doctor herself, but in between comparing swatches of material and perusing design journals, she busies herself and helps the less fortunate by voluntarily reading to the blind. As time rich and generous Carmen is, however, she wasn't counting on the arrival of the severely wounded Elías (Nicolás Sepúlveda), whom the local Catholic priest asks her to harbour and care for...

1976 review

Soledad Rodríguez's cinematography is so sumptuous and textured it is almost as if you could reach into the screen and touch it, and it renders the world of 1976 vividly heightened. This visual intensity is integral to the film's atmosphere of paranoia, which develops exponentially: upon deciding to keep Elías and her role in his recuperation a secret, Carmen becomes complicit in an adumbrate world of resistance survival. What began with dressing wounds escalates to fraught police stops and meetings where bizarre code words are swapped as a manner of establishing trust. In this febrile context, what impresses so deeply about Martelli's filmmaking is how perniciously light the potentially fatal situations and menacing ambience are worn; a mean synth score is felt rather than heard, and interactions with friends/threats are ambiguous non-sequiturs. Likewise, the psychological development afforded to Küppenheim's character (Martelli is a veteran actor herself) is carefully applied and utterly convincing - perhaps a lesser filmmaker would be tempted to patronise the loneliness of Carmen at the expense of subtlety, and the stoic bravery of her real-life counterparts.

1976 review

But then, as the film implies via soft soap police questions and other hints, perhaps Carmen, with all her status and her husband's links to local government is never really in true danger at all. Certainly, the film contrasts the lux interiors of Carmen's beach house with the poorer suburbs of Santiago, with its high rises of unforgiving grey cement and cracked walkways. The camera looms and peers as it follows Carmen through these uncertain milieus with transitions as sharp as a blade cutting between moments. Martelli films her heroine in alienated close ups, in reflection and through glass (the film's poster introduces this motif). Carmen is herself ultimately intangible, a mark who may be being used by either side; like the poured paint of the opening, she is another facet in the blood red blend of Pinochet's rule.

1976 is in UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema and BFI Player from March 24th.

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