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Julio Comienza en Julio (1979) tells the story of a young elite boy’s coming of age in 1917 Chile. On his 15th birthday, his father buys him a night with a prostitute so he can lose his virginity. Unbeknownst to his father who leaves soon after, Julio falls in love with her. When his father returns, he forbids him from seeing her and in an act of paternal revenge, has sex with her.
Chile Under Pinochet
The Chilean Army General, Augusto Pinochet, became the dictator of Chile in 1973, and immediately expectations from the right and the elite were high. The Catholic Church hoped Pinochet would work with them in a similar manner to Francisco Franco in Spain and abroad, hopes remained that Chile would embrace neoliberalism. Both of these groups would end up satisfied. But the first order of business for Pinochet was to get rid of everyone who disagreed on this course of action. Pinochet alleged that his coup was necessary since members of Allende’s party, UP, were planning to assassinate high-ranking military officials. Also, all military officials who disagreed with him were scapegoated as part of this plan.
Plenty of famous people were killed at this time including the singer, Victor Jara, the journalist, Charlie Horman whose death is the subject of the film, Missing, and Eduardo Frei, who had initially been supportive of the coup, mysteriously died in 1982. DINA, a secret police force, was set up to silence exiles as well as Chileans. These efforts would help Pinochet turn Chile into the conservative neoliberal haven he had dreamed of.
Milton Friedman and the “Chicago Boys” were welcomed to Chile and ushered in what was to be known as the “Chilean Miracle”. For a while, it seemed to work. Tariffs were lowered, international companies flooded in, and inflation dropped, but not everything was as it seemed. The new neoliberal strategies benefited foreign investments but national firms were struggling. The military was forced to take over a number of firms and at one point controlled more than when Allende was president. Strikes and disruptions occurred with workers feeling undervalued since Pinochet abolished closed shops, limited strikes to 60 days, and made it legal for employees to hire replacement workers. Pro-market capitalist elites were overjoyed, the middle-class was simply grateful for their newfound economic stability, but the working-class was without allies. The public school sector was the next to be slashed during this miracle. Suspected pro-Marxist professors and teachers were fired from their posts. University staffs shrank, books were lost, and private universities sprouted up. The “Chilean Miracle” was only true for the foreign elite. Working-class and leftists faced no such reality.
Making the Anti-Pinochet Film
Julio Comienza en Julio was made in the middle of all this and exists as one of the few films to be made during Pinochet’s reign and one of the few to criticize his government. Unfortunately, all of these criticisms had to be done through metaphors because any overt disagreement would be punished severely. The director, Silvio Caiozzi, places his story in 1917 so none of his critiques of the elite can be viewed as dangerous. To further his safety, the film is shot in a sepia tone to make the film feel extremely old and separated from the moment in which Chile was living. To the bureaucrat reviewing his film, they would see nothing wrong with it. Though, it is extremely interesting that Caiozzi chose this time period in Chile’s history to serve as the backdrop for his film. Chile was in the first years of its parliamentary democracy which was started after the Chilean Civil War in 1891. This was a time of class mobility and activism amongst the middle but especially the working class. The middle class was seeing huge growth in education and with that student unions as well as labor activism.
Meanwhile, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist movement was sweeping across Latin America. Workers in Santiago as well as nitrate miners began to stage massive strikes. Unfortunately, much like the Chile of the 1970s, the power and land were widely kept in the hands of the elite, and strikes were stamped out violently. The film focuses on these rich landowners and their hypocrisies. Julio’s father treats his workers fairly well and encourages his son to be with the local prostitute. This changes when he realizes his son wants more than one night with her. For all the pleasantries he enjoys with his workers, he cannot stand the idea of class mobility. The poor are there to be used, anything else is practically blasphemy. Caiozzi also shoots party scenes among the rich with a dizzying camera. You watch them get drunker and drunker through this shaky camera and realize just how delirious and frivolous these people are. Should they really be given all the power they have or should that go to the much more self-aware working-class characters of the film?
A Critique Without Hope
The thing that really sets Caiozzi’s work apart from the leftist films of the Allende era is his lack of hope for the future. Caiozzi had already lived under six years of the Pinochet regime and there seemed to be no end in sight. His film reflects this. Throughout the film, Julio naively tells his prostitute lover that he wants to be with her forever but she is hesitant to believe that their relationship will have any life once his father returns. The big climactic breakthrough of the film is when he finally sees his father having sex with her. Before he looks through the peephole of the door, the madam of the brothel apologizes and reminds him that he must know who runs things. He looks away in horror and gallops away. Julio leaves, but without purpose. Caiozzi does not make it clear that Julio will go off to live with Campesinos or something else revolutionary. His leaving seems more like a momentary emotional outburst because he knows that he is trapped in this world. He finally understands why his lover was so hesitant to believe him. He understands the working class, but he is unable to do anything for them. The film sometimes lacks exciting plot points but the powerful images in the last scenes alone make this a movie worth watching!