MOVIE OF THE WEEK May 5, 2023: CHILE ’76

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A well-to-do Chilean woman’s comfortable life is turned upside down when her eyes are opened to the terrors of the Pinochet regime in Manuela Martelli’s tense, atmospheric Chile ’76. As Carmen (Aline Küppenheim, in a compelling performance) gets drawn into the fringes of the resistance through caring for an injured activist, she starts to realize just how precarious her protected existence really is — and begins to look at her world with new eyes.

As the film begins, Carmen is aware that some people are suffering under Pinochet’s rule, but it doesn’t really have a significant impact on her life — she’s more concerned with the precise color of pink to paint the walls when she remodels her beach house over the winter holidays. But then family priest Padre Sánchez (Hugo Medina) asks for her help tending opposition fighter Elías (Nicolás Sepúlveda), whom Sanchez has been secretly sheltering while the young man recovers from grave wounds.

Carmen gradually gets drawn further into Elías’ world, and what she learns and understands leaves her deeply shaken, almost feeling like an impostor in the life she once took for granted. She’s surrounded by her family — her respected doctor husband, her sophisticated adult daughter, her adorable grandchildren — but none of it feels as immediate or important as helping Elías recover and find safety (especially after a naked body washes up on the beach, presumably the victim of the dictator and his enforcers).

Martelli, in her feature debut, conveys all of this with calm, quiet conviction — this is no high-octane thriller, but rather a slow burn, with tension ratcheted up via a dissonant, moody score and creative shots that imply more than they reveal. Martelli’s choice to capture so many scenes in reflections or through glass serves as a powerful metaphor for Carmen’s position in an unstable world: She’s at a remove from the heart of the action, but she’s seeing things more clearly every day. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Pam Grady: Strongman Augusto Pinochet’s murderous right-wing regime is not something bourgeois housewife Carmen needs to consider – that is until Padre Sanchez calls on her for a favor. Not long ensconced in the beachside vacation home she’s renovating, Carmen finds herself in a difficult position: As a doctor’s wife and long ago Red Cross volunteer, who better to help a young rebel nursing a bullet wound? Her motivations at the start are purely altruistic. She is helping out the priest and doing her Christian duty in caring for the young man. But as she becomes more invested in his future, she also becomes willing to do her own part in the rebellion at the possible loss of her freedom or even her life. Aline Küppenheim delivers a powerful performance as a woman compelled to do the right thing in the face of potentially lethal consequences in this tense, low-key thriller. First-time feature director Manuela Martelli nails the paranoia and fear of an era along with the capturing the humanity of a woman surprising herself. Self-protection ought to be Carmen’s fallback position – it is of her husband and everyone else in her social circle – but in Küppenheim’s empathetic turn, she discovers fortitude and a strong moral compass she never knew she had.

Nikki Fowler: Chile ’76 is a haunting and cinematically beautiful film from first-time director and co-writer Manuela Martelli. Aline Kuppenheim perfectly embodies the subdued, sheltered, and elite housewife Carmen, who sees the walls crashing down on her utopia and privileged life during the Pinochet dictatorship and helps to bring Martelli’s thriller to life through her intense portrayal of her increased paranoia and fear, as she gets entangled into helping an injured activist. This angst, juxtaposed with Carmen’s daily life as she plans birthday parties, bakes cakes, and chooses sunset-influenced interior color schemes for her vacation home, makes this film all the more daunting and terrorizing as she tries to navigate life with her family, including her grandchildren, amongst bodies washing up on beaches and not knowing if she’s being followed or not. Carmen’s privileged life is intact, but it’s the story of her psychological crumbling and foreshadowed country’s downward spiral that makes Chile 76 so impressive, which is almost entirely absent of graphic images during such a violent time. The film is esthetically beautiful with rich coloring and time-stamped landscapes and locations. Soledad Rodríguez creates beautiful imagery with her exceptional cinematography with a riveting and intense score by Mariá Portugal and production by Estefania Larrain, which all perfectly encompass a tumultuous 1970s Chile.

Sherin Nicole From halcyon days of privilege to political defiance, Chile ’76 is a smartly crafted political thriller that flips the perspective on life underneath a military dictatorship. Directed by Manuela Martelli, written by Martelli and Alejandra Moffat, the film follows Carmen (Aline Küppenheim), a member of the Chilean bourgeoisie. While vacationing, she accepts a request from her priest and is irrevocably drawn into the anti-fascist resistance against General Pinochet’s brutal regime. As the risks deepen, Carmen questions what is right versus what is good for her and her family. Küppenheim plays this to the hilt, viscerally connecting us to the complexities and terrors of life under oppression. Yet even against the backdrop of these chilling times, Martelli doesn’t splatter her canvas with blood. Instead, drenching her film in moody jewel tones, the director plays with shades of pink in the idyllic days that morph into deep reds as Carmen embraces rebellion. The music is a consistent agitation, as it seems to boil over alongside the emotions, but there is also cake as a metaphor for Carmen’s life and whether she can eat it and keep it too. Chile ’76 is an intense and affecting film that will leave you staring at the screen after the credits fade.

Leslie Combemale In her directorial debut, Chile 76, director and co-writer Manuela Martelli shows herself to have a strong point of view and aesthetic that fans of this film will want to see again. From Mariá Portugal’s claustrophobic electronic score, to the expert pacing, to the intensity of lead Aline Küppenheim as Carmen awakening to her place in a larger political context she has largely ignored, viewers of the film will feel sucked in, whether they like it or not. Through the film’s action and the many little signs Carmen sees around her, Martelli and co-screenwriter Alexandra Moffat create a feeling of dread and menace that builds to such a crescendo, it’s hard to shake after the credits roll. They seem to be saying, “those seeking safety in their bourgeois playground, beware. No one is safe. ” That’s a message as important today, both in the US and around the world, as it was in 70s Chile.

Jennifer Merin Chile ’76 is a powerful political thriller. This first feature by actor-turned-director Manuela Martelli, who also co-wrote the script with Alejandra Moffat, is set in the atmosphere of dread that swept over Chile during the 1970s as the repressive measures of the Pinochet dictatorship became harsher and harsher day by day. The compelling story centers on the political awakening of Carmen, an upper class a-political Chilean woman, the wife of a well-known physician, whose daily live revolves around family gatherings. shopping and lunching with friends. Carmen is asked in private by a priest to care for a young resistance activist who has been seriously injured and is in hiding. She agrees to do so out of the goodness of her heart. While she is saving the young man from death, she learns more about the horrors perpetrated by the Pinochet government and she becomes politicized. Ands, then she then agrees to play a part in the dangerous mission of trying to rescue the young man to a safe location. Read full review.

Sandie Angulo Chen: Like last year’s Academy Award-nominated Argentina, 1985, Chile 76 is a fascinating historical drama that captures the essence of life under a bloody Latin-American dictatorship that employs state-sponsored violence to shut down any political dissent. Chile 76 isn’t based on a particular true story, however, it’s writer-director Manuela Martelli’s exploration of what happens when a comfortable, wealthy middle-aged woman has to confront the atrocities of her society. Elevated by Aline Küppenheim’s amazing, nuanced performance as Carmen, the powerful drama follows a privileged everywoman who isn’t particularly political. A devout Catholic, Carmen is neither a staunch anticommunist (although she and her surgeon husband have Pinochetist friends) nor a socialist sympathizer, but when she starts caring for a young resistance fighter, she reexamines her capacity for selflessness – and risk.

Loren King Actor turned director Manuela Martelli’s accomplished debut feature is a restrained slow burn of a political thriller. The film is anchored by a perfectly modulated performance by Aline Küppenheim as middle class housewife Carmen whose life has so far been shielded from the brutality of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1970s Chile. Carmen is more concerned with choosing the right color paint for her beach house than with the screams of an unseen woman in the street.
Read full review.

Liz Whittemore As modern-day political upheaval remains a source of horror and inspiration, Chile ’76 has a timeless relevance. Aline Küppenheim’s outstanding turn propels the film. It is a nuanced performance. Carmen represents the millions of women performing invisible labor of protecting their families from emotional turmoil while simultaneously taking up the mantle of hero in their newfound activism. Chile ’76 is a captivating and inspiring movie that goes beyond expectations.

Cate Marquis Set in Chile during the brutal, oppressive Pinochet dictatorship, Chile ’76 is a film that sneaks up on you, starting like a quiet drama about a wealthy woman who is satisfied with her settled life, but gradually morphing into a white-knuckle thriller about life under Pinochet. Aline Kuppenheim’s sensitive yet striking performance drives this thriller, as we are drawn into her world and her changing feelings. An impressive debut by a actor-turned-director Manuela Martelli, Chile ’76 is a chilling, powerful political thriller as a woman’s view of the world around her is shaken to its foundations in the film’s devastating conclusion. Read full review.


Title: Chile ’76

Director: Manuela Martelli

Release Date: April 5, 2023

Running Time: 100 minutes

Language: Spanish with English subtitles

Screenwriters: Manuela Martelli and Alexandra Moffat

Distribution Company: Kino Lorber

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Jamie Broadnax, Leslie Combemale, Nikki Fowler, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).