‘Beyond My Grandfather Allende’: Cannes Review

Courtesy of The Directors’ Fortnight/French Directors Guild
A documentary for Allende followers who want a glimpse into his personal life

The family life of Chilean president Salvador Allende is explored through family photographs and memories.

Almost 42 years have passed since a military coup d’etat in Chile deposed the democratically elected government of President Salvador Allende, leading to his suicide while the presidential palace of La Moneda was being bombed, and then 17 long years of violent dictatorship. The facts have been extensively documented, most notably by Patricio Guzman in his riveting 2004 biographical documentary. Are there still stones to overturn? Allende’s granddaughter Marcia Tambutti Allende, a biologist with no previous film experience, felt there was still a very personal angle that had never been openly discussed, not even in her own family. Beyond My Grandfather Allende (Allende mi abuelo Allende) is the result of eight years of research into the personal life of “Chicho,” as his family called him. As she discovered, he is practically a taboo subject for her grandmother, Allende’s widow, until the director’s patience coaxes out some buried emotions. While her labor of love has rendered a great service to historians, it is not clear what kind of audience the film can have outside of Chile. Bowing in Cannes’ Directors' Fortnight, the Chile-Mexico co-production should in any case find festival showcases.

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The film is a little too long (the double end is particularly unnecessary), and at times it slips away into a sort of psychoanalysis of the filmmaker and her close-mouthed family which can be heavy going. Of more universal interest are the many previously unseen photos and even home movies unearthed during the shooting. The portrait of Allende-the-man that emerges is one of a loving and lovable patriarch who lived for politics more than for his family. 

Though much screen time is devoted to informally interviewing various family members, such as the director's mother and cousins (several born after Allende’s death in 1973), the key player is her grandmother, Hortensia (“Tencha”), who died at the age of 94 while the film was still in preparation. Frail but lucid and still very elegant, she is initially reluctant to talk about the past, but finally opens up and in a few words acknowledges her love for her late husband, her suffering at his affairs with other women and her unconditional support for his political ambitions, which involved economic sacrifices to finance his election campaigns. The filming brings up other painful memories, like the tragedy of her daughter Tati’s suicide in exile in Cuba during the years of the dictatorship. One can understand how difficult it is to open old wounds, but most viewers will agree the director is right to insist on coaxing out the family truth, before it is too late to put the tale together.

Production companies: Errante Producciones in association with Martfilms, Fragua Cine
Director: Marcia Tambutti Allende
Screenwriters: Marcia Tambutti, Bruni Burres, Paola Castillo, Valeria Vargas
Producer: Paola Castillo
Executive producers: Paola Castillo, Martha Orozco
Directors of photography: Eduardo Cruz-Coke, David Bravo

Editors: Titi Viera Gallo, Coti Donoso
Music: Leonardo Heiblum, Jacobo Lieberman
Sales: Doc & Films
No rating, 98 minutes