by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
translated by Asa Zatz
It makes me happy that the image on the cover of this book is a still from Miguel Littin’s film Acta General de Chile, the film that is the subject of Clandestine in Chile. In his introduction to the book Francisco Goldman says that he doesn’t know anyone who has actually seen the film, and after a quick poke around it doesn’t look like I’ll be adding myself to the list of people who have seen it any time soon. Which is probably okay, because the tale of how it came into being provides plenty of entertainment for the moment.
Clandestine in Chile is a piece of reporting, a brief 116 pages gleaned from 18 hours of interviews. While the text is Garcia Marquez’s, he retained the first person voice of Miguel Littin, and it is his story – the story of how he reentered Chile after 12 years of exile, disguised so that even his own mother had trouble recognizing him, to make a film about life under the dictatorship of Pinochet. Struggling with intense nostalgia, and the identity crisis brought on by his extreme disguise, Littin traveled through Chile for 6 weeks. Using three international film crews and the complex network of the underground resistance, he escaped in the end with 105,000 feet of film – a long donkey’s tail to pin on the backside of Pinochet!
The book is filled with a certain amount of tension and suspense (after all, Littin is on the list of people absolutely forbidden to ever return to Chile) but in spite of the sense of urgency and the close calls it is not a rip-roaring adventure. There is a subtlety to it all. Littin senses the change in his country and its people – there is a heavy dread in the air, a somber silence – but it is at times difficult to see what is wrong with the picture in the brightly lit, clean streets of Santiago. Comic and surreal by turns, the story is definitely an interesting one – all the more so because it is true.
Being a film lover myself, I got a kick out of Littin’s escape into a movie theater when he needed to clear his mind, and how he stalled his project for a few hours to watch Amadeus. He mentions the first film he ever saw as well as a few other films that impressed him. I wrote them all down for future reference. Of Littin’s own films, the only one I have located so far is The Jackal of Nahueltoro, the movie that kind of saved his life when he was escaping Chile in the chaos of the coup. I’ll be watching that in the next few days.
This was the last book on The Wolves reading list for 2010. What a fantastic year of reading! Three cheers for us all. We have a new list for the new year which I am very excited about and will actually post about soon. For the moment, Happy New Year and happy reading in the new year.