Dogs are a repeated and, I suspect, metaphorical motif in this Chilean drama by Marcela Said about the complicity of the middle-class in avoiding accountability for the atrocities committed under Pinochet. #MIFF2017
Mariana (Antonia Zegers) is in her 40s and bored with her privileged life. She has a father and husband who treat her like she’s a child, refusing to take her seriously or allow her to make her own decisions. She decides to learn to ride, where she meets quiet and elegant Juan (Alfredo Castro), a former colonel being investigated for past human rights abuses. She becomes intrigued with the dichotomy of a cultured man being seen as a monster in other people’s eyes and tries to unearth information about his past.
Mariana is a forthright character, unafraid to be confrontational or to speak her mind. This is contrasted with moments where she has no agency and seems unable to stop others, all men, making decisions for her. From her father trying to sell land on her behalf to her husband making her resume fertility treatment, it seems ominous that the machismo of her social milieu makes her akin to a pet. It also highlights her fascination with Juan, who seems to be the only man in her life who doesn’t coerce her.
Mariana runs a gallery and seems to have a fascination with often macabre art involving dogs. She pampers her own dog, a blue heeler called Neptuno, and is angered when a neighbour threatens to shoot it if it strays on his property again. There is a small but important moment in the film, where Mariana’s boorish husband Pedro (Rafael Spregelburd) gives her a painting by Chilean artist Guillermo Lorca.
In the painting, a girl stands atop a red-carpeted mound surrounded by dogs. The girl is both innocent in her dress and appearance and knowing in her demeanour. The heaped red carpet looks like it is hiding something and resembles heaped bodies or meat. The dogs look for attention from the girl with one sniffing the ground as if it has scented something to eat. The feeling is one of surreal disquiet and of something hidden.
In this painting, I see a metaphor. Mariana is the girl and all like her in Chile; privileged and innocent in so many ways but with a growing understanding of the reality of the past. The dogs are the men in her life; sleek and pampered but also predatory, monstrous and unable to be restrained. You will understand what is hidden when you see the film; Mariana is given an opportunity to make a choice of her own, to reveal what has been ‘swept under the carpet’. Her choice says much, I think, about Said’s view of her country.
Have you seen this film? Did you think the dogs represented Chilean privileged machismo like I did? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.