If you’re fortunate enough to have seen any of Patricio Guzmán’s exemplary documentaries about Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s human-rights atrocities, then you’ve seen the finest works of their kind. If the subject interests you further, however, and you’re willing to trade the artistic eloquence and daring of Guzmán’s powerful films in for a more muddled, home-movie-style disquisition on the sordid history of Pinochet’s Chile, there’s The Chilean Building, a hazy documentary by Macarena Aguiló in which the filmmaker reflects on her experience growing up as a child in Project Home, a make-do solution for MIR revolutionaries that allowed for their children to be raised outside the country—first in Paris, then in Cuba—so they could be kept form the reach of Pinochet, who had a habit of having such children disappear.
The Chilean Building is able to capture a sense of sorrow and longing for answers in the people it features, whether from Aguiló‘s interviews with some of her peers and their “social parents,” excerpts from tender letters written between her and her parents when she was a child, or from hand-drawn animation that seems inspired by Fantastic Planet and Andrei Tarkovsky, drawn by an artist, Néstor Pérez, who seems to be trying to decipher his own time in Project Home through metaphysics. But because of the film’s inability to firmly establish who everyone is and how they know each other, it confuses instead of captivates. As the film skips from interview to interview, with archival footage interspersed in between, we’re able to follow a chronological thread that brings us to a point when these children have grown up and decided to move back to Chile. What we’re not able to follow so clearly is Aguiló. The film fumbles from the get-go with two back-to-back scenes in which it fails to establish that Aguiló is the person we’re seeing or hearing. This problem of not being able to identify Aguiló even persists throughout several interviews with other people for which she may or may not be present. In this respect, one clear establishing shot of who she is would have worked miracles, but that would only have cleared up about half of The Chilean Building‘s blurry horizon, because the interviewees aren’t identified either.
While interesting to hear the stories of those involved in an experiment that was necessitated by pressing political concerns (the children seem of the opinion their parents did the right thing, while the parents aren’t so sure), the film curiously ends without the audience really getting to know Aguiló, who narrates the film, recounts her dreams, and shares family photos and memories. This could be because Aguiló, being so close to her material, couldn’t see it from an audience’s perspective: What probably seemed obvious and familiar to her, seems vague and confusing to us. It also doesn’t help that she appears strangely chameleonic, possibly due in part to different, cheap video qualities. Like the recent Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment, a documentary about the social experiment of kibbutzim in which children were raised in groups, away from their parents, The Chilean Building is best suited for those interested enough in the subject matter to tolerate the film’s poor presentation.