The Summer of Flying Fish, which begins a weeklong run tomorrow at Facets Multimedia, isn’t the best new Chilean film to play here this year. (Sebastian Lelilo’s Gloria remains the front-runner for that title.) Still, it reflects the present good health of Chile’s national cinema, as well as the growing number of female auteurs all over South America, one of the more encouraging trends in movies today. Flying Fish marks the narrative-film debut of director-cowriter Marcela Said, a documentarian whose first film was the provocatively titled I Love Pinochet. This new work is clearly intended as a political provocation—its critiques of class inequality and ecological devastation are both rather blunt. Yet Said balances out the film’s didacticism with her lyrical visual motifs. Some of the most powerful moments are of steam and smoke rising ominously off a secluded lake, imagery that grows more resonant as the film develops.
The storytelling, also fairly blunt, concerns the coming-of-age of Manena, a rich teenage girl, during a summer at her family’s lake house in the south of Chile. Her father owns a good deal of land around the house, which had long been the exclusive territory of the local indigenous population. Over the course of the film he becomes obsessed with ridding the lake of a foreign carp fish, and in so doing he seriously disrupts the natives’ way of life. The girl’s initiation into sex and drugs is accompanied by a growing awareness of her father’s unjust behavior, not to mention her own class privilege.
This recalls Sebastian Silva’s underrated Magic Magic in its southern Chilean locations and critical portrait of Chile’s idle rich, though it’s worth noting that Said’s critique goes much further than Silva’s. During one of the dinner-party scenes, Manena’s father makes a shockingly blithe allusion to the Pinochet years, revealing the full extent of his insensitivity. On the one hand, it’s one of the film’s bluntest moments, advancing a straightforward comparison between Pinochet’s military dictatorship and the economic dictatorship of the world’s one percent. On the other, it speaks to the efforts of contemporary Chilean filmmakers to address the legacy of the Pinochet regime in the post-Pinochet era.