February 23, 2024

Making main competition at the 49th Huelva Ibero-American Film Festival in Spain, “Prison in the Andes” (“Penal Cordillera”) trains a spotlight on the scandalous imprisonment of five high-ranking officers of General Augusto Pinochet’s brutal military junta.

We find these men serving out their sentences amounting to some 800 hundred years in a well-appointed mansion with a pool, gardens and aviaries in the Andes foothills and where their so-called guards wait on them hand and foot. At times, violence erupts among the guards, who are virtual prisoners themselves.

“I wanted the story to be a metaphor for Chilean society,” said its writer-director Felipe Carmona who chose to make this tale of misplaced justice his debut feature. While the facts around the case are depicted in the film, he has inserted elements of fantasy and fictional scenes to bring the story to life, imagining the conversations they would have had among themselves.

Their pampered lives are rudely disrupted when one of them is interviewed on television and he haughtily reveals that the soldier standing behind him is there to carry his cane, not to guard him. The public backlash leads to their privileges being revoked and a transfer to more spartan digs.

Some of the cast members, led by Andrew Bargsted, Hugo Medina, Bastián Bodenhöfer, Alejandro Trejo, Mauricio Pešutić and Óscar Hernández, had themselves been detained and tortured by the regime. “It was, in a way, their way of avenging themselves and a cathartic experience to play the other side,” said Carmona, who cites, among his references for the film, Luis Buñuel’s “The Exterminating Angel,” Claire Denis’ “Beau Travail,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” and Marco Ferreri’s “La Grande Bouffe.”

The film was shot in January and February of last year outside the capital of Santiago where Carmona worked with his cousin, DP Mauro Veloso, who had also shot Carmona’s short films. “We have developed a shorthand between us, which makes it so much easier,” Carmona noted.

Not unlike Pablo Larraín’s neo-gothic comedy “The Count” where Pinochet is depicted as a vampire, Carmona portrays Pinochet in a satiric black and white sequence reminiscent of a 1920s silent movie.

But the similarities remain there. “We Chileans ask ourselves why we keep harking back to the dictatorship,” he mused. “I suspect it’s because there is still no closure, the constitution under Pinochet remains unchanged to this day,” he added.

“Penal Cordillera” was produced by director-producers Dominga Sotomayor (“Too Late to Die Young”) and Omar Zuñiga (“The Strong Ones”) of Cinestación, in co-production with Multiverso, Brazil.

The drama, which had its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, will be released by Storyboard Media in Chile on Nov. 23.

Luxbox handles international sales.

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