Manuela Martelli’s feature debut features a mesmerising Aline Küppenheim as a woman conflicted by her role within a repressive society.
It’s three years since the Allende government was deposed by Augusto Pinochet’s military regime, throwing Chile into a brutal dictatorship. Carmen (Küppenheim) enjoys life as a member of the country’s upper middle class. She is staying at the family’s holiday home on the coast, overseeing its redecoration, when she witnesses first-hand the abduction of a citizen on the street by state police. Whatever shock she feels is subsumed under a blank expression and, like so many others, she carries on with life as if nothing has happened. But then she is asked by a local priest, who knows she has had some medical training, to help tend to a young man who has been shot. It triggers something in Carmen and she begins to face up to the reality of the society she lives in. Does she can carry on living her life in wilful ignorance, or should she risk everything and make a stand.
Actor-turned-director Martelli has fashioned an impressive, immersive portrait of life under Pinochet. Unlike the recent Rojo and Azor, whose accounts of life in repressive South American regimes play out like conspiracy thrillers, 1976 is more an intense character study, examining the nature of submission, the point at which any situation becomes too much and what we are willing to sacrifice in the name of change. Küppenheim perfectly embodies this conundrum; her Carmen is a woman who believes herself to be a good person, but who comes to realise that quiet acquiescence can be just as dangerous as active collaboration.