Academic journal article Jewish Film & New Media

A Family History/A Country's History: The Films of Ariel and Rodrigo Dorfman

Academic journal article Jewish Film & New Media

A Family History/A Country's History: The Films of Ariel and Rodrigo Dorfman

Article excerpt

Introduction: The Dorfmans' History-An Open Story

Early in his documentary Generation Exile, filmed in Chile and the United States in 2010, director Rodrigo Dorfman1 narrates the history of his family to his daughter. "Dear Isabella," he begins, as if composing a letter, while the typing of an actual letter is seen on-screen: "Tomorrow is your seventh birthday, and I would like to be back in Durham [California] to celebrate with you. This is the most important birthday in the history of our family, even if you do not know about it yet. But now I need to be in Chile working on a documentary about the long exile of our family." These words are accompanied by images of a young Isabella playing in Durham, contrasted with images of a military parade in front of the Chilean government house, the Palacio de La Moneda. This is followed by archival family footage of an elderly man wandering through the streets of Santiago, the capital of Chile. Dorfman's narration continues, "This is your great-grandfather [Adolf Dorfman]. I wish he were still alive. I have so many questions. How did he survive the twentieth century?" Family photographs are juxtaposed with generic images of the historical horrors of the twentieth century, while Dorfman adds, "He was the son of a Russian revolutionary, and survived the pogroms and the Bolshevik Revolution." The narration then migrates across continents. "He fled the fascist regime in Argentina in 1944. He was expelled from the USA during the McCarthy era in the 1950s, to finally arrive in Chile, where my father [Ariel Dorfman] followed in his footsteps and joined the democratic revolution of Salvador Allende." The screen now shows archival footage of a young Ariel Dorfman walking toward the camera. As in the previous photographs, the family images are connected to world history by a collage of sounds and archival images of the Chilean coup d'état: Hawker Hunter planes, the bombing of La Moneda Palace. "By then I was only six years old, the son of a writer and revolutionary and of a very Chilean mother. I had little possibility of escaping our family curse." From the narration accompanying the archival images of the Chilean coup d'état, the audience learns that this family was forced into exile again-to Rome, London, and Paris-yet they always retained the hope of returning home.

This introduction establishes the Dorfmans as a Jewish-Romanian-Moldovan- Argentinian-Chilean-American family forced to flee, fight, and survive multiple historical traumas for at least four generations. Russia's, Argentina's, the United States', and Chile's terrible histories combine to create what is perceived as the family's curse. The fact that Isabella's seventh birthday can be celebrated in the same place she was born breaks this curse. What Eric Hobsbawm described as the short twentieth century2 sums up a long history of forced migration where the extreme politics of the century challenged the Dorfmans, forcing them to leave their homes, learn new languages, create new lifestyles in different countries and on new continents, and learn new cultures. In their narratives the Chilean experience is contrasted, compared, and evaluated against other traumas from the past and different geographies.

Reflecting on the grip the Chilean case has on his family, Ariel Dorfman-writer, poet, screenwriter, playwright, and human rights advocate-has stated: "Why am I in exile? Why am I far away? Why do I speak English when I swore I wouldn't? It all has to do with the [Chilean] coup and the fact that I was spared. Life pardoned me. History pardoned me. Violence passed me by. Death decided not to take me."3 In the same interview-as well as in Peter Raymont's film A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman (Canada, 2007)-Dorfman narrates how one of Allende's ministers was to have phoned him in case of emergency (i.e., in the event of a coup) so that he could assist at La Moneda Palace. However, he never received the call. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.