The Other Day (El Otro Dia): Yamagata Review
Chilean director Ignacio Aguero mixes thoughts about his familial past and interviews with members of Santiago's working-class to chart his country's contemporary history.
Throughout The Other Day, Ignacio Aguero's camera repeatedly returns to the family wardrobe that he describes, in voiceover, as the starting point of the film: among the items seen atop the wooden piece of furniture are a much-puzzled upon photograph of his parents, a flyer for a Jean-Luc Godard retrospective, a picture of a poster of Patricio Guzman's documentary on the late Chilean Marxist president Salvador Allende – whose three-year mandate and life was ended in 1973 by a CIA-backed coup – and a postcard promoting this year's Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, where the film won an award of excellence last week.
This combo of visual signposts provides a neat summary of the very visible influences to which Aguero's latest film owes a debt. Taking after Godard's legacy of close-reading images (when Letter to Jane generates a full-length documentary on ruminations of just one photograph of Jane Fonda visiting Hanoi) and the French-Swiss cineaste's post-1980s self-reflective outings (àla JLG/JLG and Notre Musique), The Other Day tackles Chile's turbulent past by wading into the contemporary tribulations of some of the country's unsung toilers (as in Guzman's most recent film Nostalgia for the Light, which parallels astronomers work of charting the history of the universe with the women trying to unearth the remains of the purged and killed husbands and sons in the desert where the galaxy-watchers are stationed).
But if only Aguero could bring this amalgamation of inspirations onto a new level. Whereas his antecedents managed to convey rancor, trauma and fury through apparently calm and introspective films, the Chilean director -- who, in 1988, made the real anti-Pinochet TV ads which are now immortalized in Pablo Larrain's No -- has delivered an inward-looking piece that repeats certain sentiments (mostly thoughts about his naval-officer father and what he would think about his erstwhile colleagues' human rights abuses during Pinochet dictatorship) and rarely really connects with what's happening out there outside his door.
Aguero could certainly have any reason to do that, but he has designed his film to be something more. Early on, he tells a man ringing the doorbell – whom he records with a camera inside the house – that he's making "a documentary about the people knocking at the door." The director professes interest in these new acquaintances, most of whom come from the more working-class areas in town. After knowing them, he would plot their habitats on a big map and stretches a red string from them to the point where he lives. In time, his living-room wall becomes marked by something like a crimson web stemming from his address in the center, a point in a neighborhood called Providencia.
It's a religious connotation which could well sum up The Other Day's major problem, as Aguero's descent from his upper-end neighborhood to visit his struggling subjects are more like a deity's fleeting visit with the lowly believers rarely getting their voices heard and problems understood.
However much Aguero professes his film as being about other people, his conversations with his interviewees lack empathy; a comprehension of their problems seem to be of less importance than capturing their presence on screen, and Aguero sometimes asks the same questions twice and refuses offers from people wanting to show what they are doing (that's the case of his friend Adolfo, who appears a bit miffed when the director said he should leave the demonstration of his self-invented hydraulic mix for later).
While boasting of beautiful imagery and inclusions of some interesting photographs and video snippets (including one depicting a Raul Ruiz film being shot at Aguero's home), The Other Day is too distant to merit its claims as a visual illustration of how Aguero's – or Chile's – present is marked by its neo-liberal, authoritarian past.
Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival
Production Company: Ignacio aguero & associate
Director: Ignacio Aguero
Producer: Ignacio Aguero
Co-producers: Christian Aspee, Daniela Salazar
Screenwriter: Ignacio Aguero
Cinematographer: Ignacio Aguero, with additional cinematography by Arnaldo Rodriguez, Gabriel Diaz and Claudia Serrano
Editor: Sophie Franca
Sound: Ignacio Aguero
International Sales: Ignacio aguero & associate