Laia Quílez Esteve
Universitat Rovira i Virgili
Originally published at the Catalan Journal of Communication & Cultural Studies. Volume 8, Number 1
Born under Chile’s totalitarian regime and currently living in Barcelona, filmmaker Carolina Astudillo returns to her home country with Lo indecible (The unspeakable) to recover the story of Gabriela Goycoolea.
As in El gran vuelo, this film recovers an individual experience that, when articulated in story-form, becomes a collective memory. However, the narrative strategy used in this brief documentary differs completely from that used later in her first feature-length film. In El gran vuelo, Astudillo only resorts to the use of found footage when she wishes to appeal to the past and to reflect on the images inherited from it. Lo indecible, however, uses the word in its full sense, in the form of a testimony, focusing on a figure that floods the fourteen minutes of the film without rest.
The voice in this film is still in the process of healing – in this case, it belonged to Goycoolea, a woman who was kidnapped by soldiers in 1974 when she was principal of a small school in Santiago de Chile. She was then confined in a clandestine detention and torture centre, accused of collaborating with the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Left Movement, or MIR). Here, Goycoolea’s story functions as a multifaceted prism through which other memories of horror are projected, a story that refers to her but also to all the victims of the Pinochet regime. If memory is fragmentary, if it is impossible to evoke atrocious abuses suffered first-hand without error, without distortions, without an overt or involuntarily amnesia, then an audio-visual transcription of such events must also lack unity, closure, definitive answers. To emphasize this quality throughout Goycoolea’s testimony, Astudillo has seven male Chilean citizens (a tailor, a lawyer, a doctor, a young passer-by, etc.) read fragments of a seemingly infinite letter that contains detailed testimonies of torture suffered by women in the MIR.
These testimonies were taken from the National Commission on Political Prison and Torture Report, commonly known as the Valech Commission. The fact that Astudillo selects an exclusively male group to read the female victims’ testimonies of torture is not coincidental: ‘I wanted them to be men, not only to serve as a counterpoint, but also to capture what would happen to them as they read these experiences narrated by women, how their bodies would react, what would happen with their voices, what they would feel’, she explains in an interview (Wallace 2013).
In a similar way to that found in Shoah (1985), Claude Lanzmann’s magnum opus about the Holocaust, Astudillo uses this kind of witness, each filmed in his everyday setting in the present (a tailor shop, a library, a hospital, a park, a kitchen), precisely to stage her conviction that the shadow of this past continues to darken the present and that injuries, though invisible, remain hidden beneath the skin, hidden in every corner. The reading of these strangers’ writings, choral but also distanced, even cold, removes emotion from a shocking and horrifying story, and thus ‘also makes the viewer uncomfortable, a viewer who, in most cases, does not want to keep listening’ (Wallace 2013).
In fact, while we come to know in detail the nightmare experienced by other female victims of totalitarian terror through these readings, Goycoolea’s story speaks to us, through faltering words and inevitable silences, about the difficulties of remembering and explaining what happened to her loved ones, thus avoiding creating a visual memorial of this tragic period. Lo indecible is not so much about reliving the horror of the dictatorship as it is about reflecting on the impossibilities memory confronts when evoking the past.