REVIEW: 1976, BFI London Film Festival

This feature debut from actor turned director Manuela Martelli is certainly stylish but feels a little fragmented.

What happens when your life turns upside down under unexpected circumstances, forcing you to get involved with something that you didn’t want to? This is something that lies very much at the heart of Manuela Martelli’s directorial debut, set in Pinochet’s Chile and an increasingly suspensive situation that sees one woman reluctantly getting involved with politics – leading to paranoia and not knowing who to trust.

The woman at the centre of the situation is Carmen – an ordinary woman who is fixing up her holiday home for when her family and husband choose to visit on their holidays. But from the off there is an undertone of darkness and suspense as when the audience first meets her she is selecting a colour of paint in a shop, when a commotion takes place outside on the street and a woman is dragged off – leaving only a shoe behind as proof of her existence. Things continue to get darker when Father Sanchez asks for her assistance in taking care of an injured young man in secret – it is not apparently clear why it has to be done in secrecy until later when it becomes clear he is trying to avoid Pinochet’s regime which has the country in its grip. It is a portrait of Pinochet’s Chile and the suffocating nature of the regime seen through one woman’s eyes.

It is very much a character study and the plentiful use of close up shots and angles really capture the character’s increasing sense of isolation and uncertainty of those who she can and can’t trust. Every aspect of this film has been carefully thought out and does give a sense of a thriller – from the bleakness of the colours in each shot to the ominous use of sound in the background. However, it does have to be said, it does take a little bit too long to get going, with the first half very much seemingly about developing a portrait of Carmen and her life – which is absolutely fine from the psychological point of view. However, it should also be noted that this then means the audience can’t get a real sense of the reasons why she has to be involved with the developing situation when she could have simply walked away. But perhaps the point being made is that it is difficult for anyone no matter who you are to not get involved with politics and this is something that could be clarified in a tidier way, as many of the scenes feel a little fragmented.

The final part of the film is actually the strongest, as we see Carmen’s increasing paranoia and anxiety really taking hold of her – it is sharp and bleak here and perfectly captured through Aline Küppenheim’s subtle but engaging performance. She brings to life the character’s sense of conflict in an understated way that manages to hold the audience’s attention, leaving them wondering what is next in store.

While as it is, 1976 has plenty to grab hold of the attention – there still feels as though there is room to develop Carmen’s reasoning behind many of the decisions that she makes. An interesting examination of what life was like for people living in Chile in the 1970’s.

By Emma Clarendon

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

%d bloggers like this: