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In the early 70's, in Uruguay, the revolutionary group Tupamaro kidnaps
an American trainer of torture and the Brazilian consul, and through
the interrogation of the abducted American, the big picture of Uruguay
(and other Latin America countries) is reported.
"État de Siege" is a testimony of the history of Latin America in the 70's, during my childhood and adolescence. All the democratic governments elected by people were discharged through coup d'état by military dictatorships supported by the American government, the police and military forces trained in tortures by American advisors, student and union leaderships destroyed and revolutionary groups unsuccessfully fighting against the dictatorial regime. The fantastic director Costa Gravas exposes this serious wound in Latin America and this denunciation shall never be forgotten by the next generations. This movie remains amazingly real and important, sometimes recalling a documentary. Only this month this film was released on DVD in Brazil, and it is a worthwhile investment. My vote is ten.
Title (Brazil): 'Estado de Sítio" ("State of Siege")
"State of Siege" is a terrific movie with the same look and feel as
Costa-Gavras's other classic of the period, "Z." Set in Uruguay, "State
Siege" was actually filmed in Chile during the Allende presidency, and was
ironically released shortly before the coup that overthrow Allende (the
subject, of course, of "Missing," another Costa-Gavras
"Z" was released on DVD last year in a newly restored version with excellent additional materials (modern interviews of Costa Gavras and Jorge Semprun, who wrote the screenplay, as well as interviews with the actors). My question is, when will "State of Siege" receive the same treatment? It is not available for sale in the US in any form, and is almost impossible to find as a rental. Now that "Z" is available in such an excellent edition, its about time "State of Siege" was too.
What is most significant about this movie is how few have seen it. Only 66 people have voted on it here whereas over 700 have voted on Z, its counterpart and also a fine movie. 'State of Siege' follows the realities and deceptions concerning the CIA involvement in South America. The movie is uplifting and depressing, humorous and appalling. Viewers are forced to meander through contrasting elements deeply personal and highly political. I saw the film once when it was first released and have not been able to find it since, yet I remember virtually every scene. It would be wonderful to restore it to full circulation.
This is not a fiction film. In fact, it reveals the way the guerrilla movement Tupamaros acted in Uruguay during the 70s. For those young people, it is necessary to remind that this left-wing movement was not a guerrilla in the mountains but an urban one, operating mainly in Montevideo. They used to kill esbirros (nasty policemen and agents) and to make justice against the existing dictatorship whenever it was required. The movement operated in a secret and compartmented way, i.e. many of the members did not know each other, thus avoiding to be eliminated by denunciation. Costa Gavras was able to draw the way Tupamaros acted in Uruguay, and also an important happening of those days, the way the CIA agent Mr. Dan Mitrione (Yves Montand) was killed. In fact this movement was disarticulated once new police agents infiltrated in the movement, and the main leaders were discovered. Mitrione was killed but this did not prevent that another CIA "pinch-hitter" for Mitrione came later to replace the dead man. The film may seem as sympathetic to Tupamaros, partially it might be, but this is rather a subtle critic to their methods than congratulation for what they did.
In May, 2002 they are fulfilled 30 years of the beginning of the filming of
this movie in several leases of Chile (Santiago, Viña del Mar, Valparaíso
and Playa Ancha). It was in the second year of the socialistic government
the President Allende and the tension that is perceived in the movie was
one that already was living through the country a year before the military
coup of 1973. The Chileans only we could see this movie 2001 and in an
cinema-art in Santiago that exhibited it for two weeks. In May, 2002 the
channel of French cable TV5 exhibited "State of Siege" four times, which
allowed a deeper critical review and to recognize a series of places of the
Chile of 30 years ago, which already do not exist or which are now deeply
modified. Besides the climate of the epoch there is perceived the
or simple car equipment that Chileans were having in that epoch in which
cars of luxury were the Dodge Dart Chrysler (assembled in the northern port
of Arica) and the Peugeot 404 (assembled in Los Andes, 100 kms. from
Santiago). The car of the well-off middle class was the Fiat 125 and en
their juvenile sectors the ideal was a Mini Austin 850. In the installed
middle class there were meeting old Renault 4S (the "renolas" o
"renoletas"), VW beetles, Simca 1000 and principally the popular one
2CV, known like "citroneta" o "citrola". The movie allows to see brief the
juvenile or young faces of approximately 30 actors, the majority today
mature and well known and to wonder for the identities of others that
probably retired, they did not come back from exile or were murdered or
disappear during the dictatorship. In short an intelligent and nervous
"thriller", in "Z" style, which showing the hard political reality of
Uruguay between 1970 and 1972. The film allows a nostalgic look and
indicative on the Chile that was on the way to disappear due the Coup
of 11 of september, 1973.
I agree that this film should be released on DVD. It is a great
companion piece to Z and Missing.
Costa-Gavros managed to produce a stinging indictment of US involvement in South American politics, without drawing his villains as caricatures. His characters, policemen and revolutionaries, come off as profoundly human, flawed but not themselves monsters, though they are involved in monstrous acts. The torture scenes are grueling, and were probably as responsible for the film's official reception.
I saw this at the age of 15, when it was in the theaters. I confused it with the Eric Ambler novel of the same name. It had a profound personal influence on me. I was able to rent it once, about 15 years ago but haven't run across it since.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
State of Siege (1973) was another classic film from Greek film maker
Costa-Gavras. This time the director turns his attention to Latin
America. The C.I.A. is running things in South America, one of their
fronts is a fake corporation. A group of left wing rebels decide to
kidnap the head of A.I.D. Phillip Santore (Yves Montand). During his
capture, the rebel leader talks to the captured government official and
tries to learn why the C.I.A. is in Uruguay and why they're training
the local police in brutal torture tactics. He never learns why they
want to suppress left-wing politics because Mr. Santore has become
expendable. The American and Uruguay officials don't want to deal with
the "terrorists" and don't mind losing one of their own because he can
always be replaced. Too bad the rebels don't learn that fact. The
military crushes the rebels and to his word, the U.S. Government
replaces Santore with another A.I.D. official.
Another great film from Costa-Gavras. He utilizes the film techniques that he used in Z and exploits them even further. This film caused even more controversy because the film was based on a true story. Bewarned, the torture techniques that the U.S. advisers teach the Uruguay officials are real graphic and gruesome. It's a shame that this movie has been neglected for so many years. But film makers like Oliver Stone were highly influenced by this movie. Maybe some day State of Siege will be restored and released on video. It's a real hard film to get a hold of.
Highest recommendation possible.
In what could be considered a follow up to his classic Z, Costa Gavras
yet again tackles the political thriller genre with great mastery.
In Uruguay, an American with a somewhat vague and mysterious background but who is held in high esteem by the ruling powers is kidnapped. The kidnappers start interrogating him and through this backdrop, we are introduced to the struggles between leftist rebels and a right wing government in the Latin American country.
As I said before, the film is very similar to one of director Gavras's earlier efforts, Z. Like that film, this too depicts the struggle between two powers, one represented by a US-backed right wing government, the other a slightly leftist liberal resistance movement. Although the government is shown in a bad light here, neither side is overly demonized or depicted heroically. Instead, both have their motives which are ultimately quite noble so the viewer can identify with both. It is this tendency to show both sides of the story that makes Gavras a great storyteller and why both this and Z succeed so well.
Like in Z, Gavras likes to keep the camera at a distance giving us a good overview of events like for example riots in the street and how the police deal with them. The film also keeps away from unnecessary subplots and instead focuses on the story, just the way I like it. Music is used minimally and when it is used, it is effective, instead of having a constant background jingle.
If you liked Z, you will like this and if you like this, you will like Z. Or if you just like a good intelligent political thriller, this is the film for you.
State of Siege is an exceptional account of how the Uruguayan underground revolution (Tupamaros) developed an extremely challenging resistance against both Uruguayan dictatorship and other parties such as USA and multi nationals who financed such dictatorship. The film describes in great detail the meticulous process used during the resistance, which in turn was adopted in other parts of Latin-America and Asia. Having lived in Uruguay during this time (1970s)i was amazed at the accuracy of the story and the ability by the story teller and the characters to convey a story/narrative that at the time of filming was very much a well hidden secret by both the establishment and its supporters, and the Tupamaros. Great research, and a great opportunity for those who are interested in Latin America political system as well as getting an effective snapshot of a time in history.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A fictionalized account of the early 1970's kidnapping of Daniel Mitrione by
the Uruguayan Tupamaro terrorist group, "State of Siege" is almost a mirror
image of the director's previous film "Z." Mitrione (here called Phillip
Michael Santore and played by Yves Montrand) is ostensibly working for
USAID, but in reality - a reality uncovered for the viewer as the Tupamaros
hold recorded interrogations - he trains the Uruguayan police and associated
hangers-on how to torture suspects electrically, run death squads, and
destroy the Tupamoros. Outside of the terrorist safehouse a newspaper
reporter witnesses how the US government covers for Santore, the Uruguayan
crackdown on dissent, and the aftermath. The repression is carried to
rediculous extremes; the police storm the national univercity. As the police
enter a courtyard, a PA speaker begins playing a revolutionary anthem. They
quicky destroy it, when another speaker then blares out the anthem. That too
is destroyed, and then another. Somewhere out of sight another squakbox
begins playing the anthem, and the police rush off camera.
I call "Etat de siege" a mirror of "Z" because the picture takes place in flashback, the director is willing to hint where the picture is set at the beginning (the car which plays an important part has a Montevideo license plate), and the director is willing to say who is really backing the repression. Most importantly, however, is that the main character is the exact opposite of the politician in the previous film. Santore is willing to use midaeval means to keep South America an apolitical market for American goods and seller of raw materials for US industry, though he hides behind the banner of anticommunism. The politico in "Z" only wanted to keep Greece a non-nuclear power.
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