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“The Avocado Republic of Chile, Because it’s too Cold to Grow Bananas” is Chile’s ultimate tour guide.  Laugh-out-loud funny and insightful.  American writer Walker Rowe sick of the pollution and noise in Santiago moves to the country for peace and quiet.  What he did not know is when you move to the country, you exchange one set of problems for another. 

The Avocado Republic of Chile Chile Independence Day Dust and Dirt in Rural Chile
Chaos at the Local School The Market Earthquakes
Love and Romance in Chile The Chilean Concept of Time My Vegetable Garden
The Compost Pile There is no Heat in Chile Drinking Burgoyne
Chilean Food is Boring and Bland Rodeo in Chile The Caretaker
The Cactus Garden Watching the Southern Skies Oscar’s Adventures
Things Fall Apart Argentina’s Dark Culture Rene, the Communist
Chewing Coca Leaves The Mapuche Conflict Cuasimodo

by

Walker Rowe

Every day when I wake I turn to the international section of El Mercurio newspaper to see what is happening in Argentina.

Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote his famous song “Don’t Cry for me Argentina” for his musical “Evita.”  Perhaps he could have titled it “Don’t Laugh at me Argentina” or “Come Cry with me Argentina.” Because what happens over there borders on the surreal.

This weekend, the beaches here in Chile are filled with Argentine bathers because it is a quadruple holiday over there.  Argentine motorists lined up for 11 hours, yes 11 hours, to wait to cross the border into Chile at Los Libertadores border crossing at 3,175 meters elevation.  Normally you can cross in no more than an hour.

The reason for the long holiday is Palestino, a Chilean soccer team, is playing a team from Mendoza, Plus there is a day of mourning for the blessed virgin.  A marble statue in a church might be the only place in Argentina, or Chile, where you can still find a virgin.  In Chile 70% of births are out of wedlock and 15 year old single mothers are common. I imagine the situation is nearly the same on the other side of the Andes.

Soccer is the true religion in Argentina; the church is an afterthought. More people in the USA go to church than do people in South America.  The church’s main role over here appears to be political. When Pope John Paul (Juan Pablo) II died, everyone in Chile cried.  Still they do not go to church much.

Art, as they say, imitates life.  So it is with Ricardo Darin, Argentina’s most famous actor.  Last night I watched for maybe the 6th time his film “El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret in his Eyes),” which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1993. Darin also starred in “Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales),” which this year was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.  Both of those films show the dark side of Argentina and the dark side of humanity in general.  These are movies with a theme, a point, unlike Hollywood action films with spiders and aliens. You need a great theme to make a great movie.  Voltaire said that about books.

I think most Hollywood actors are frustrated, because the great dramatic actors, like Liam Neeson, who played Oscar Wilde on Broadway, can find no market for their drama skills and have to work in action movies, which I am sure they disdain.  Ricardo Darin does not have the same constraint as the Argentines are not trying to make blockbuster movies that can be dubbed into the lowest common denominator for the Chinese market. Over there, in the country of Borges, they still read books and produce films with important themes about life’s sadness.  French movies were like that before Gerard DePardieu turned into a Hollywood clown.

Ricardo Darin does not do cheesy romances or action films with lots of gunfire.  Instead his characters delve into the dark and deranged corners of Argentine culture. All cultures have dark and demonic corners, but Argentina has more.  For example, the country is run by a mafia who calls itself government. The country’s most famous journalist, with the largest TV audience, Jorge de Lanata, flips the bird as he discusses corruption of the political classes in Argentina.  He used to write for Clarin newspaper, whose heirs were babies kidnapped from parents who had been murdered by the dictator 40 years ago.

In “The Aura,” Darin plays a meek taxidermist who follows some criminals into the woods and then falls in with the gang.  In “Carancho” he is an attorney who helps people sue insurance companies.  To drum up business, he gets clients to dive in front of automobiles.  Things get out of hand when his accomplish is killed doing that.

“Nine Queens” was remade in Hollywood.  The protagonist is a conman who constructs an elaborate con with other conmen who in the end have played the con on the conman.

In “The Son of the Bride,” Darin takes over his father’s restaurant after the father has retired.  The mother has Alzheimer’s.  The father wants to celebrate their anniversary by marrying again.  The church says they will not marry a person who is not conscience of what they are doing.  So a friend, who is in no way associated with the church, steps in to play the role of the priest.

This year came “Wild Tales.”  Darin’s character is a demolitions expert who is fired from work. His wife then proposes divorce.  A crooked tow truck operator tows Darin’s car from a curb that is not market.  Darin takes a taxi to the tow company compound. There he confronts an indifferent clerk.  After much complaining, Darin pays to retrieve his car, as he has no choice if he wants his car back. The clerk sends him to the city office to discuss the issue further.  Darin queues up to at the city government parking office. He demands to see the manager when the clerk there also shows no empathy with his innocence.  Darin tells “the fucking corrupt city” that he owes no fine.  Further he wants an apology from the city and reimbursement for his wasted time and money  spent on a cab.  The second clerk laughs in his face. So Ricardo Darin takes a fire extinguisher and cracks open the thick glass behind which sits the clerk.  His picture appears on the front page of the newspaper the next day, documenting his rage, which now has become an issue in the custody battle.

Ricardo, attacked from all sides, now plots revenge.  He plants a bomb in his car and parks in a no parking zone.  He sits in a cafe and waits patiently for a tow truck to show up and tow it away.  It explodes in the parking lot of the tow company. The shock wave blows out the tow office windows and sends the indifferent clerk flying.  Because Darin is a demolitions expert, he calculated the blast radius exactly so that the blast kills no one.

“El Secreto de Sus Ojos” won the Oscar for Best Foreign film.  Ricardo and another detective snare a rapist. Police higher upper in the department free the killer to work as a killer for the state.

This movie is particularly ominous because something like that happened just last month.

Prosecutor Nisman had for 20 years investigated the bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. Iranian agents planted the bomb. The prosecutor had gathered evidence that Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her foreign minister has gone around official channels and secretly negotiated directly with the Iranians to stop the investigation in exchange for renewed trade which, by the way, would have violated international sanctions against Iran.

The prosecutor was to present formal charges in the congress when an assassin shot him in the head the night before.  This despite him having 22 bodyguards for more than 10 years.  The president said it was a suicide.  Another prosecutor took over the case and a judge threw it out of court. The president of Argentina is openly at war with both the courts and the media.  When accusations of this first appeared in Clarin newspaper, the government’s Chief of Staff tore up the newspaper in front of the cameras at a press conference.

All of this would make for a good spy thriller except it’s all true.

 

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(2) Readers Comments

  1. Hello!

    I’m a Chilean who has spent most of his life living abroad, and I truly enjoy reading the life experiences of an American in Chile. Keep up the good work! 🙂

    By the way, “The Secret in Their Eyes” came out in 2009 and it was awarded with an Oscar the same year.

  2. Thanks. Unlike American movies you can see most any Argentine movie you want on YouTube. Chilean ones too but not Mexican ones. So I’ve seen almost every Darin movie on YouTube.

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