The best school for dialectics is emigration. The most pen...展开etrating dialecticians are exiles. There are changes that have forced them into exile, and they are interested only in changes. From minute signs they deduce the most fantastic events, on condition, of course, that they are able to reflect on them. If their adversaries win the day, the exiles calculate the price that they will have to pay for that victory, and the contradictions they have unwittingly brought to light. - Bertolt Brecht, Refugee Conversations
In a (Parisian) office, two guys talk. The Algerian kicks off the conversation: 'Where are you from?', he asks his companion, a bearded man with a bottle of red wine in his hand. He is neither Spanish, nor Italian, nor Portuguese, nor South African, nor Egyptian ... The answer is always the same: 'No, much further away.' In the street, two Chileans speak French, for it is their only means of finding out anything; a third person arrives and talks to them about the elections, stating that they must maintain an interest in French politics. Indeed, Chile is a long way from Paris!
These are the Parisian encounters of Chilean exiles, tinted with happy and sad memories, which Ruiz (himself an exile) shot at the beginning of 1974. Popular Unity no longer exists, but the Chilean experience is ceaselessly re-lived in Paris, without any attempt to forget former antagonisms or correct previous mistakes. These dialogues occur around a central event: a Chilean pop singer is 'kidnapped' by the exiles. It is a Chilean-style kidnapping: force isn't used, rather the singer is invited to eat and drink, and is thus imprisoned by cordiality and friendship. Because if someone is Chilean, alone in Paris, a singer and a nice guy, then he's happy to be among compatriots: doesn't exile (voluntary or otherwise) often make people forget their ideological differences? They celebrate his birthday and drink to the 'reconstruction of the great family of Chile', because Chile is indeed a great country and one big family, where everyone dances the cuenca, where farmers and workers put on their best gear to dance this Chilean cuenca.
In Dialogue of Exiles there are also share-apartments holding five, six, seven or ten people; hunger strikes in order to get work or liberate imprisoned comrades; and there are political retrainings, reunions, interviews with journalists, declarations sent out to the press. But also French militants who don't understand why the Chileans don't participate more actively in the activities of the Party, or why, after they have been handed an airplane ticket, they are never heard from again. However, solidarity with the cause must continue.
But it's not only a question of Chilean exiles; Ruiz envisages the problems common to all national communities that have at some given moment experienced banishment. Cut off from their language, their culture and their social milieu, exiles are strangers who still live as if they were back in their home country, hoping to return there. And the Chileans in Dialogue of Exiles, at least those that Ruiz shows us, live in France as if they were in Chile. The parties, songs, political and other kinds of discussions, the talk, dialogue, debate – all this has a very important place here, precisely because, through it, Ruiz uncovers for us a whole way of being, a mentality, culture and ideology – because Chliean popular culture also belongs to its urban masses, its middle class. In Dialogue of Exiles, one finds the traits of Chilean militants deriving from diverse social sectors, just as Los Tres Tristes Tigres uncovered those of the urban middle class.
Constructed like a stage play, whose confined space is nothing other than the 'closed circuit' in which the exile lives, the film is shot almost entirely indoors. And there are the windows closed and re-opened, the sliding doors showing or hiding a bedroom, the terrace where people come and go, the escape route both physical and verbal. Exiles, who must confront problems of survival, often forget the political struggle because adaptation to a new milieu absorbs them too intensely. So we see, for example, the path of an envelope containing money for the M.I.R. [Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria/Revolutionary Left Movement] fund 'diverted' in order to pay the rent, telephone or doctor's bills. Ruiz refuses anything easy, like praise or sympathetic encouragement; he's very hard on himself and on other exiles. It's true that, during the film, one laughs at the grotesque situations; but finally, it's all rather sad. Ruiz is also ironic about cultural schemas, habits and certain ways of living. During a meal between Chileans, they discuss at length the quality of meat in France and the conditions of cattle rearing in Chile, ending with statistics concerning meat consumption in Cuba: a classic argument, which all Latin Americans living in Europe or North America have held. And all because it is important, in exile, to speak of Chile. A permanent subject of conversation, the Chile of Popular Unity – but also of the repression – is invoked at every occasion.
This dialogue must continue because, today, one can see the problems of resistance more clearly. This film can fulfill the function that Ruiz intended for it by provoking dialogue. With its clear and evocative title, this first work of Chile's cinema of resistance inserts itself into the struggle against fascism. In the Parisian greyness, Raúl Ruiz and the other exiles are still a part of Chile – that country where, a year and a half after the coup, imprisonment, torture and murder still continue, but where people still fight for liberation.