In September, 1973, the C.I.A. sponsored General Pinochets coup to violently oust Chilean Socialist President Salvador Allende. Ariel Dorfman, Allendes 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 Raymonts latest documentary pays as much tribute to Allendes 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 Dorfmans recent homecoming. There are of course, tributes paid to the thousands of mothers of the disappeared, who Pinochets secret police murdered without a trace.
Based in part on Dorfmans memoir and co-produced by his son, A Promise To The Dead is a walk through Chiles 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, Dorfmans 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 doesnt undergo a transformation like the tormented General Romeo Dellaire in Raymonts 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)