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A Promise To The Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman

Peter Raymont

A Promise To The Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman
In September, 1973, the C.I.A. sponsored General Pinochet’s coup to violently oust Chilean Socialist President Salvador Allende. Ariel Dorfman, Allende’s cultural attaché, was one of the lucky few in his Cabinet to escape with his life. Now teaching in America, Dorfman recounts those idealistic three years when Allende ruled and remembers the bloody persecution that followed.

Peter Raymont’s latest documentary pays as much tribute to Allende’s Chile as it does to writer and intellectual Dorfman. The strength of the film lies in Dorfman returning to Santiago and recalling in vivid detail how he escaped from the soldiers and hid in the Argentinean embassy that Chilean snipers were watching day and night. Rare archival footage is skilfully blended with Dorfman’s recent homecoming. There are of course, tributes paid to the thousands of mothers of the disappeared, who Pinochet’s secret police murdered without a trace.

Based in part on Dorfman’s memoir and co-produced by his son, A Promise To The Dead is a walk through Chile’s dark history, guided by a key eyewitness. No doubt Chileans will feel a sense of closure from seeing this film, while others will be moved. However, the film needs a few more voices to challenge, as well as uphold, Dorfman’s telling of history. A smaller complaint is that Dorfman fails to convincingly link the World Trade Center attacks with the Pinochet coup, which both happened on different September 11s.

While Dorfman feels morally obligated to tell the story of 1973, he doesn’t undergo a transformation like the tormented General Romeo Dellaire in Raymont’s excellent Shake Hands With The Devil. Dorfman remains more of a detached witness with seemingly no psychic scars to heal but a wealth of memories that this film succeeds in capturing. (White Pine)
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