José María Berzosa (Spain, 1928 — France, 2018) is a missing link in the history of Spanish cinema, his filmography, made entirely in France, characterised by the use of sarcasm and parody against despotic power. Coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of the 1973 coup d’état in Chile, the Museo Reina Sofía screens the full version of his documentary series Chili Impressions (1977), following one sole screening in Spain, which took place in Filmoteca Española in 1981. The documentary’s four episodes unmask the monstrosities of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, while also spotlighting film’s capacity to confront tyranny and represent the subjugated.
Berzosa, who made around a hundred documentaries for French television, came to occupy a unique position in the TV industry as he developed his own themes using a distinctive language and was lauded by the critics as one of the most original film-makers in the medium. Exiled to France from 1956, he was initially a director’s assistant for film-makers such as Jean Renoir and Luis Buñuel, but soon became a reference point in his own right due to his television reports, the aforementioned Chili Impressions among them. Berzosa stood out for conceiving documentary in a baroque style using words from the time and with the co-existence of complex narrative strategies ranging from the staging of direct interviews, the use of counterpoint and antithesis in the editing, the idea of filming malevolence and infamy head-on and, his most idiosyncratic trait, the use of humour as a weapon against a harsh and implacable reality.
Berzosa also centred his gaze on dismantling the myths of Spanishness that spread during Francoism, for instance in Rouge Greco Rouge (Red Greco Red, 1973) and Comment se débarrasser des restes du Cid? (How to Dispose of the Remains of el Cid? 1974), which is perhaps the reason why he went to great lengths to film the Chilean dictatorship, which, in the words of the chaplain of Augusto Pinochet, bore the most similarities to the Franco regime. In the four episodes of Chili Impressions, Berzosa pieces together a portrait of the regime from different angles: Les pompiers de Santiago (The Firefighters of Santiago), which presents a group from an alt-right corporation; Voyage au bout de la droite (Journey to the End of the Right), a route through the formation of the dictatorial State; Au bonheur des généraux (To the Generals’ Happiness), an approach to the Military Junta and its cultural tastes amid genocide; and Monsieur le président (Mr President), a portrait of the different sides of the dictator. The series was shot in January, February and March of 1977 and was first broadcast in France from April to May 1978 following a futile attempt at censorship by the Chilean Embassy. Today it constitutes one of the most powerful and astute examples of cinema against the brutality of dictatorship.