Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 13, 2012

The Chilean Building

Filed under: Film,Latin America — louisproyect @ 8:04 pm

Macarena Aguiló is not only the director of “The Chilean Building” that opens today at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem. She is also one of the subjects, namely the children of MIR (Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria) guerrillas who were left behind by their parents when they returned to Chile to conduct a futile armed resistance to the Pinochet dictatorship.

The children became part of an experiment called “Project Home” that included 60 at its peak. First in France and then in Cuba, they were raised in a communal environment by MIR sympathizers who while having no ability to determine events in Chile could control the way that children were raised in “the Chilean building”. This meant no television. It also meant conducting mock guerrilla training in Cuba with young boys and girls in fatigues and berets firing what looks like real machine guns.

Just as “red diaper babies” of CP parents in the U.S. looked forward to their summers at places like Camp Wochica, where they could both play softball and enjoy Paul Robeson performances, “Project Home” was a “liberated zone” with kids and adults treating each other as equals, staying up to 11pm and generally having free rein. But as much as they bonded with their new quasi-parents, they never lost touch with the real ones who were fighting in Chile. They received communications from them frequently but on a basis that had more to do with a Tom Clancy novel than letters from mom and dad to their kids at Camp Beaver Dam. The letters were written in microfilm and the names of both the children and the parents changed with every new communication. It is little wonder that they began to suffer alienation from each other.

Macarena Aguiló is a constant presence throughout the film but is not Michael Moore-styled intrusive. Mostly she is there to have a conversation with those who went through the “Project Home” experience, including the children like herself, her lefty foster parents, and finally and most movingly her own mother.

One of the most revealing moments in the film involves a MIR veteran describing his movement’s realization in the late 70s that armed struggle was futile. Eventually most became reabsorbed into bourgeois society or part of the parliamentary left that eventually assumed power after the end of the dictatorship. If this was a painful process, it must have been doubly and triply painful to realize as well that the ties with their children who were returning to Chile could not be reestablished.

In many ways the encounters between the young adults being reunited with their parents was as awkward as those involving children being adopted as babies finally meeting their real parents, a drama given new heights in Mike Leigh’s “Secrets and Lies”. The principals in Macarena Aguiló’s very fine documentary are wrestling with problems that overlap the political and the personal and as such would have a lot to say to my readers.

The film will be especially interesting to people my age who a MIR member described himself as belonging to the “generation of 1968”. American Trotskyists, unlike the MIR, were generally dissuaded from having children and when they did often decided to relegate them to their own version of “Project Home”. In one instance that I vividly recall since it involved a personal relationship, my girlfriend in Houston had decided to leave her infant daughter with her mother since the child stood in the way of her activism. At least once a week she would show me baby pictures and come close to crying over not being with her child.

What we did have in common with the MIR was a belief that the “bourgeois family” was as much a part of the rotten capitalist system as Wall Street banks or the Pentagon. Unlike us, the MIR was in a position to create an alternative that embodied their communal values but was only partially successful to say the least.

“The Chilean Building” is a gripping drama that like so much of the time today surpasses narrative films both in its believability as well as its intensity. I would also strongly urge my readers to make a point of seeing it for no other reason that is an excuse to see a new and revitalized Harlem. The theater is at 343 Lenox Avenue/Malcolm X Boulevard between 127th and 128th Streets, just a stone’s throw away from a Senegalese/Continental fusion restaurant called Les Ambassades Bar & Restaurant that I spent a pleasant evening at just before retiring from Columbia University. Just across the street are Sylvia’s and the Red Rooster, two landmark Harlem restaurants also worth your time if you make reservations in advance.

1 Comment »

  1. In his fine book about the Sojourner Truth Organization, “Truth and Revolution”, Michael Staudenmaier briefly addresses the failure of the STO to create a place for activists with children. To expect people to separate themselves from their children is unrealistic, and results in a deformed socialism separated from much of the populace, much in the same way that lifestyle anarchism does. One of the achievements of the South American social movements in recent decades, particularly the MST and the indigenous peoples of the Andes, has been their ability to incorporate family life into their activism. Perhaps, this is my personal bias, I can’t imagine turning my young son over to others. It must have been horrible when the MIR veterans who had left their children realized that the armed struggle was futile.

    Comment by Richard Estes — August 13, 2012 @ 11:27 pm

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