Sweet Country (1978)

 

 

Director:  Michael Cacoyannis.

Starring:  Jane Alexander (Anna), John Cullum (Ben), Carole Laure (Eva), Franco Nero (Paul), Joanna Pettet (Monica), Randy Quaid (Juan), Irene Papas (Mrs. Araya), Jean-Pierre Aumont (Mr. Araya), Pierre Vaneck (Father Venegas), Katia Dandoulaki (Sister Mathilde), Ann Coleman (Dorothy), Yannis Voglis (Max), Betty Valassi (Sara), Dimitris Poulikakos (Torturer), Saun Ellis (Evelyn).

following two couples and their reactions to the 1973 overthrow of the Allende government in Chile

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

New York City, 1986.  Paul, a French-Canadian journalist, is driving in New York City and he gets into a verbal argument with a cabbie.  While arguing, he recognizes the woman passenger, his American friend Anna, who he knows from Chile.  Anna, however, deliberately ignores him.  At a screening of news about Chile concerning the overthrow of Allende and the dominance of the military junta, however, Anna and Paul are both attendees.  After the screening is over, the leader Jose says a few words.  Paul asks Anna: "What did I do to you?"  Anna reveals that she knows that Paul squealed on her group of liberals when they were in Chile.  Paul denies the charge, but Anna just wants to avoid him. 

A package arrives for Paul.  Jose starts to unwrap it and there is an explosion.  The bomb explosion kills Jose and gives Anna a slight concussion.  In the hospital Paul talks to Anna and tells her his side of the story. 

Santiago, Chile, 1973.  Anna and her husband Ben attend a funeral.  Later when Ben talks with Father Venegas in his office a shot barely misses him.  Father Venegas tells him to stay away from the windows or a sniper just may get him the next time.  Father Venegas mentions that Allende will be killed.  Later Father Venegas introduces Ben to Paul and his wife Evelyn.

Anna is at her home in the suburbs of Santiago.  Her neighbor invites her over to her place where they are having a party.  The neighbors are happy that the leftist Allende government has fallen.  A toast is made to honor their main allies, the Americans. 

Mr. and Mrs. Araya have two grown daughters, Monica and Eva Marie.  Mrs. Araya expresses concern for her two daughters and hopes they are both safe.  At Monica's apartment, Monica is entertaining her sister.  There is a loud bang on the door and a voice says:  "Military police.  Open up!"  The two sisters and Monica's daughter are forced to stand with raised arms against one wall of the apartment.  A soldier frisks all three females, rudely touching their chests.  The military police search the apartment and policeman Juan finds a picture of Eva with Salvador Allende.  He hides the picture under his shirt.  Eva is told that she will have to accompany them.

Anna cries to see husband Ben arrive back home safe and sound.  She mentions to him that their daughter's teacher was killed in the morning.  Anna refers to Chile as a "Fascist inferno".  She wants to leave Chile saying that the cause has died with Allende. 

Eva Marie is interrogated and tortured with slaps and cigarette burns.  She faints.  The torturers say that they do not have to get her to sign a confession because she's just not that important. 

At Anna's place, a remark is made that Anna will be a spy.  Paul talks with Anna and gives her some advice about military dictatorships:  say as little as you can; be careful of who you trust; and avoid knowing too much about leftist organizations. 

Eva and the other women are forced by the military police onto a basketball court.  The officer in charge has the women strip naked and has them simulate sex.  The women, of course, are very upset, scared and humiliated.  Most of them start crying.  Eva Marie is knocked to the floor when she stands up.  Later they let Eva Marie go.  She returns to Monica's apartment.  What she wants first above all is a bath.  Her mother is very glad to see her again.  Mom remarks about the new insecurity in Chile:  "Only the dead are safe."

Juan, the one who hid the picture of Eva with Allende, and his partner see Monica and Eva Marie returning to their apartment building.  The two policemen follow the women.  They knock on the women's door and are let in because the women are afraid of what might happen if they don't allow them entrance.  Juan tells Eva Marie that he has a souvenir of hers, namely, the picture with Allende.  He says they will return the following day with the picture. 

Paul is trying to seduce Anna by giving her automobile rides and asking her to dinner. 

The two sisters let Juan and his colleague into their apartment.  It soon becomes quite clear that Juan intends to blackmail Eva Marie into having sex with him.  Before he leaves, Juan places some papers in the umbrella stand and says he will see Eva Marie alone tomorrow.  When Juan returns alone for Eva Marie, Monica tells him that Eva Marie had to go somewhere.  This makes Juan mad and he pulls out the papers he had hidden in the umbrella stand.  The papers are anti-military junta.  Monica tells Juan that the papers do not belong to Eva Marie.  Monica suggests that Juan have sex with her rather than with her sister, but Juan not only says no, he calls Monica a slut.  He adds that Monica is just not his type. 

The next time Juan comes to the apartment, Eva Marie is alone.  She disrobes and places her body on her bed.  Juan has sex with her.  After he is finished, Eva Marie runs into the bathroom and locks the door.  Juan asks her to open the door because he is leaving.  She opens the door.  He is mad and asks her why she locked the door.  Eva Marie remains quiet.  As he leaves he says: "Be seeing you." 

To get away from Juan and to get out of Chile, Eva Marie stays with Anna and Ben.  A new wave of arrests takes place.  One day Juan and his colleagues stop the bus on which Anna is riding.  Juan checks her purse and finds a passport picture of Anna.  Now he knows where Anna is. 

Anna tells her close friend that Ben had an affair.  The friend tells her to get even, but Anna rejects the idea.  Anna meets with her charity group led by a leftist nun.  They make plans to get Eva Marie out of Chile.  The plan is to take her to the Italian embassy from which she will leave with the other refugees there.  Paul drives Anna to his place and they have sex.  He then tells Anna to tell her husband about her adultery, but she refuses.  Anna and the leftist nun help an assassin kill an official with the military police.

The group of liberals learns that Paul has been engaged in some shady activities.  Paul told Anna's close friend that his wife Evelyn back home in Quebec nearly had a miscarriage and that he was leaving for Canada.  But someone spotted Paul taking a plane trip to Argentina.  Ben tells Anna that Paul may possibly be a spy.  This really upsets Anna and she takes to bed. 

Juan rat finks on Eva Marie, showing the anti-military papers to his chief.  The police are angry that Paul got away from them. 

Back to the future in New York City, 1986.  In the hospital Paul explains to Anna that he worked with a group trying to unite liberal forces in Latin and South America against all military regimes.  Anna in return tells him that she was deported back to the United States.

Santiago, 1973.  The time has come to get Eva Marie out of Chile.  Her loved ones say good-bye to her.  She and Ben will go to the Italian embassy.  But as they climb the ladder that will allow them to get over the tall back wall, Eva and Ben are machine-gunned to death. 

 

Good movie.  Many of the movies dealing with military dictatorships are good at exposing the inhumane direct effects of the military juntas on the citizens, but this one shows both direct and indirect effects of the military dictatorship in Chile.  In a regime of lies and death, amoral hustlers and perverts like the military policeman Juan can readily exploit those thought to be subversives.  Those suspected of being subversives in a sense have no rights and are available to be taken advantage of by the psychopaths.  The movie kept my wife and my interest throughout.   Living under a military dictatorship, there is always that fear that at any time there can come a knock on the door and those inside will be completely vulnerable to arrest, torture, humiliation and even death without any due process of law.  This feeling pervades the film, keeping the tension going through the entire movie.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

  

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