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Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2008: Calle Santa Fe

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Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2008: <em>Calle Santa Fe</em>

As with Camila Guzmán Urzúa’s The Sugar Curtain, Georges Bajem’s Calle Santa Fe charts a female filmmaker’s trip back to the homeland she fled years earlier, a journey that instigates an inquiry into the nature of memory and the condition of exile. The difference between the two, however, is that the former is poignant, subtle and evocative, and the latter is redundant, artless and lacking anything approaching directorial restraint. An intensely personal project, the nonfiction film documents Castillo’s recent return to Chile, which she fled while pregnant in 1974 for Paris after her husband Miguel Enriquez, leader of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR), was killed in a gunfight at their house on the titular street. It doesn’t take long before Calle Santa Fe begins spinning its wheels, in large part because the director’s discussions with former friends, neighbors and colleagues cover very similar territory and, worse still, have barely been edited. Single-take interviews run for minutes on end with nary a nip or tuck to help break up the visual or verbal monotony, and at a feels-longer-than-it-is 163 minutes, such self-indulgence quickly becomes enervating. Castillo’s guilt over having not returned home with other outcast revolutionaries during the ’80s, as well as many mothers’ decision to take up the anti-Pinochet cause at the expense of properly raising their children, are topics that might have proved more fertile if not for Castillo’s generally crummy cinematography, overcooked poetic-diary narration and dogged dedication to leave absolutely nothing on the cutting room floor. Jam-packed with details about the tumultuous period before and during Pinochet’s reign of terror, the film doesn’t exhibit a clue about how to assemble its material. As a portrait of one woman’s difficult attempts to reconcile with the past, and as a study of the long-term efficacy of revolution (and revolutionary zeal), Calle Santa Fe draws out its arguments until they no longer have any impact, in the process casting doubt on one neglected daughter’s conviction that everything in life is ephemeral.

Calle Santa Fe @ Human Rights Watch International Film Festival

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.