1976 film review 3

1976 review | A Chilean woman’s awakening amid Pinochet turmoil

★★★★☆ Director Manuela Martelli delivers a gripping political thriller exploring one woman's awakening amid Chile's Pinochet-era turmoil. Read our 1976 review.


In 1976, a gripping suspense drama set against the backdrop of Augusto Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship in Chile, director Manuela Martelli masterfully crafts a taut political thriller that doubles as an engrossing character study. With her directorial debut, Martelli shows a keen eye for detail and a solid ability to evoke tension and emotion.

Aline Küppenheim delivers an outstanding performance as Carmen, an elegant and affluent woman caught in the suffocating realm of quiet domesticity. Küppenheim’s portrayal of Carmen’s weariness, growing paranoia, and political awakening are complex and nuanced, capturing the audience’s attention from start to finish.

Martelli’s film is set in the titular year of 1976. We watch as Carmen, a woman seemingly detached from the sociopolitical turmoil engulfing her nation, becomes inexorably drawn into Chile’s anti-Pinochet resistance. As she tends to a young man named Elías (Nicolás Sepúlveda), a victim of political persecution disguised as a “common criminal,” Carmen’s life unravels. The facade of her bourgeois existence crumbles, exposing her growing sense of entrapment and fear.

The film’s visual and auditory elements are expertly woven to amplify the growing dread and unease. María Portugal’s unnerving score and Jesica Suárez’s sound design work harmoniously, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere long after the credits roll. Meanwhile, Yarará Rodríguez’s cinematography captures Carmen’s life’s tactile details, further immersing the viewer in her world.

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1976 demonstrates a deep understanding of the female experience during this dark period in Chilean history. Martelli’s all-female crew brilliantly captures the essence of Carmen’s muted revolutionary spirit, creating a film that serves as a testament to the power of feminine resilience in the face of oppression.

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Martelli’s ability to blend genres and balance the personal with the political makes this film different from contemporary Chilean cinema. While it is a character-driven piece, 1976 remains firmly rooted in the larger context of Pinochet’s regime. It provides a window into when fear and paranoia were constant companions for many Chileans.

As Carmen’s life becomes increasingly entwined with resistance, the film’s tension builds to a fever pitch. Carmen’s spiritual crisis and inner turmoil are expertly conveyed through Küppenheim’s performance, and the nerve-jangling score by María Portugal only heightens the suspense.

1976 is a compelling example of Chilean antifascist noir joining the ranks of films by auteurs such as Pablo Larraín, Patricio Guzmán, and Sebastián Lelio in examining the Pinochet era. This film, with its powerful performances, chilling atmosphere, and captivating story, is a haunting reminder of the human cost of authoritarianism.

Manuela Martelli’s debut is a masterclass in suspense, tension, and character development. With Aline Küppenheim’s unforgettable performance at its centre, this film offers a gripping and emotional look at a woman’s struggle to navigate the treacherous waters of political resistance and personal awakening.

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