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L'ambassade (1973)

 |  Drama, Short
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An unexpected response to Pinochet's 1973 coup d'etat in Chile. A Super-8 film apparently found in an embassy -as it's written in the original title-, where political activists had taken ... See full summary »



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An unexpected response to Pinochet's 1973 coup d'etat in Chile. A Super-8 film apparently found in an embassy -as it's written in the original title-, where political activists had taken refuge after a military coup d'état. But the events -and their setting- are not what they first appear to be. Written by Raphaël Jullien

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User Reviews

Astonishing, Haunting
22 February 2009 | by (New York) – See all my reviews

This very short movie (21 minutes), shot on Super 8mm, is quite painful to watch. The surface of the film is (deliberately?) filled with scratches and dirt. The quality of the cinematography resembles nothing more or less than a bad home movie, with overly-lit shots alternating with ones of near-twilit obscurity, even those shot during daytime. (Although Marker narrates the film, he is playing a character here -- a refugee who decides to film the events described, perhaps for lack of anything better to do; thus, the amateurishness is appropriate.) Lastly, the sound quality -- which includes narration only: the images are silent, so none of the characters shown is heard speaking -- is quite poor, and, though the narration is in English, Marker's heavy accent makes his words often hard to decipher. But the film is painful also for an entirely different reason, one that perhaps only someone on the political Left could fully appreciate. It describes all too convincingly the terror, confusion and hopelessness of political progressives caught in a fascist coup. These refugees are in limbo: they can neither change the situation, nor escape; they can only try to figure out what is happening to them (from phone calls from allies, from TV broadcasts) and deal with it somehow. As the film goes on, we slowly realize that the desperate people in this very modern hell are the *lucky* ones: many of those who did not try to escape, or perhaps did try but didn't make it to a place of safety like an embassy, have been arrested, and some have been rounded up and executed by the new authorities in a stadium (as actually happened in Chile). As their tension mounts, the leftists turn on each other, each blaming the others' political factions for bringing on the disaster: according to some, by compromising too much with the powers-that-be, according to others, by not compromising enough. At last, the refugees are offered the only solution to save themselves: exile, an option they gratefully take. As they climb into a van that will take them away forever from their country, a panning shot over the city they are escaping reveals... that the audience is not where it thought it was. This work, a reaction to the right-wing coup in Chile, is a somber corrective to the revolutionary optimism of Marker's earlier work. (Interestingly, this film is included on the same DVD as The Sixth Side of the Pentagon (La Sixieme Face du Pentagone), a short 1968 film, showing the October 1967 anti-Vietnam War March on the Pentagon, which perfectly embodies that earlier optimism.) And although The Embassy (utterly unlike the elegant La Jetee or Sans Soleil) appears utterly artless, even crude, seeing it twice reveals subtle symmetries: the film begins and ends with the vapor trail of a jet, and the face of a woman, the first refugee who enters the embassy, is the same face we see in close-up as the refugees leave. (I think I'll remember the face of that woman -- confused, haunted, despairing -- until I die.) The movie works above all because the Left, at least at the time the film was made, had the same types all over the world: the lawyers, the folk singers, the student radicals, etc. They are all instantly recognizable, and universal. Marker would recount his journey from revolutionary optimism to pessimism and back again in a much longer and more ambitious film: The Base of the Air Is Red (Le Fond de l'Air Est Rouge). For now, this extraordinary 1973 work records a left-wing intellectual's dismay at the death of the 'Sixties' dream.

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