“Santiago, Italia”, as its author likes to repeat, is a “bella storia italiana”. The film’s revolves story around the exemplary role of some young diplomats of the Italian embassy in Santiago, Chile, during the coup led by General Pinochet in September 1973. Some six hundred opponents -fleeing the bloody dictatorship of which the democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende will be one of the first victims- find refuge behind the walls of the embassy, where community life is established at short notice before these men and women are finally welcomed in Italy.
The man who relays this story is the filmmaker Nanni Moretti, a director who rarely ventures into documentary-making. It was necessary for him that this story -as he knew all Italians of his age stood in solidarity with the struggle of the Chilean people- be remembered by a third party. He embarks on this unusual adventure to meet this third party in hazardous conditions as the Italian political situation, turning to a partly fascistic right, attains to the very subject of the film.
Santiago, Italia affects an ultra-classical form, where the word and the testimony that it conveys are king. Moretti, deliberately fading, composes his film in the editing, orchestrating the narrative progression from the material collected from about twenty speakers who experienced this episode very intimately, in the flesh. Some are well-known, such as Patricio Guzman or Carmen Castillo, themselves high-quality filmmakers, others anonymous, but no less vibrant in their way of invoking these dark memories.
Informative and Poignant
Most characters lived through these events on the side of the victims, others were soldiers, even torturers. Emotion often catches up to the first, bad faith the second. It is by confronting one of these that Moretti – in the only scene that exceeds the edifying power of the film, proves all the more striking: He comes out of his hiding place at the same time as he enters the frame, to remind his interlocutor who complains of the questions he is asked that no, decidedly, he had never promised to be “impartial” .
Informative, moving, the film calls for a few reservations. The first is its construction, which is slow to get to the heart of that matter and puts too much focus on the general circumstances of the coup. The second is the restraint of the author, refusing to rise to the height of the cruel coincidence that brings out in a repressed Italy such an exalting film. No doubt Nanni Moretti judged that history would speak for itself without the need to confront it more directly with the present. We can understand that, and also regret it.