Ulises’ Odyssey, the Odyssey of Looking Back

Post by Juan Carlos Castillo, CLACS MA Candidate

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Forced by his governor’s megalomania, Ulysses had to abandon his land to fight the city of Troy. Thereafter, he spent 10 horrible years confronting the many monsters and storms that opposed his way home. But this was Homer’s story.

Ulises –not Ulysses– passed through something similar, through an 30-year odyssey away from home. His biggest monster: the lack of affection from his family. His strongest storm: his memories of a broken past, or perhaps, his notion of a broken Chile.

Ulises’ Odyssey is the story about the rupture of the Chilean society exemplified through the rift that happened in Ulises’ family. The story is narrated by Lorena Manríquez, who is Ulises’ niece and also the director of this feature documentary. On October 16, the film’s New York premiere was held as part of the Fall 2015 CineCLACS screenings’ roster, to a packed house of over 130 attendees at the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center at NYU.  The event was followed by a conversation with the film’s directors Manríquez, and Miguel Picker.

It all started on September 11 of 1973, when President Salvador Allende’s was overthrown by a violent coup led by Augusto Pinochet who despotically established himself as the new Chilean president.

In the midst of this situation, Ulises became a leftist union leader. It so happened that his brother –Lorena’s father– was a fervent supporter of Pinochet, in fact he was an army officer. This provoked a fissure in the family that eventually led Ulises to exile in Switzerland. The family was split, and so were the Chilean people.

Lorena, meanwhile, was too young to understand what was happening. Luckily, years later, she had no problem in understanding the complexities and nuances of what happened in Chile and the repercussions it aroused.

It was 2003 when she came up with the idea of documenting the Chilean situation through the micro experience of her family. It is, she took what happened in her family as a way to illustrate the broader country’s situation. “I wanted to keep the film within the family unit. Sometimes you have to simplify things for storytelling purposes,” she explained.

Throughout the film, we see how Lorena confronts her father with facts about Pinochet’s dictatorship that he refuses to accept. This denial mirrors the reality of many Chileans that avoid confronting or accepting their past.

In fact, even though the documentary was released in 2013, in Chile it has just been screened only once at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. In regard of this, Lorena suspects Chilean society doesn’t want to face their past and hence the documentary hasn’t had enough venues to be presented in Chile.

As the film elapse, the reconciliation happens. Her father and uncle’s fissure starts to scar over because they confront their past. As Manríquez stressed, the problem of the Chilean wound is that nobody wants to pay attention to it. It is a neglected wound that has gotten infected because of lack of attention.

The film, then, is an attempt to mend this wound. Amalia Córdova, Chilean film scholar and Assistant Director at CLACS, described Ulises’ Odyssey as a healing documentary.

For Manríquez the realization of the documentary was an exercise of discovery. As she conveyed, “you can think you know certain things, but when you start [the research] you realize that there is more. For me, it was a discovery of mine… cover to cover.”

The night of the NYU screening and conversation, spectators that left the auditorium satisfied with the experience of seeing this film of encounters. The audience was especially compelled by the warmth of this documentary that plays like a window through which you can see a very intimate view of the Chilean people.

The intimacy of Ulises’ Odissey is achieved due to its organic flow. It presents Lorena’s informal conversations with her father and uncle in a setting in where viewers are able to see and intimate and genuine behavior exhibited by her family members. Miguel Picker, co-director, co-producer and editor, was the one in charge of filming. And as Lorena stated, her family always felt comfortable with him being present with the camera. This comfort, she thinks, helped to boost the organicity of this sensible production.

The poetry isn’t absent in this film. Many times, Lorena made interventions with voice-overs through which, with a very lyrical language, she described and expressed her feelings about the Chilean society and past. We can easily take this documentary as a longing poem aimed at rescuing an ignored past, often forgotten.

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