[The Jackal of Nahueltoro]

By Ribalta, Catalina | New Internationalist, November 1997 | Go to article overview

[The Jackal of Nahueltoro]


Ribalta, Catalina, New Internationalist


MADRID. I was 13. Like most people of that age, I didn't know what I wanted to be. I liked the movies and I loved documentaries, but film-making seemed like another world. Then something happened, the significance of which I was only to realize many years later.

There was a Chilean girl in my class. We became good friends. She had left Chile, lived in Mexico for some time and now she was in Spain. One day I went to her house and saw a photograph of a man with a beard, a strong-looking man with dark hair and black eyes. Next to him was Garcia Marquez, the Colombian writer whose One Hundred Years of Solitude we were reading for the literature class. There were film cans and books everywhere and other photos of the same man next to a camera. It was her father, Miguel Littin. He was not in the house because he was 'travelling'.

Years later, I came to know the work of Miguel Littin. His first feature film The Jackal of Nahueltoro (El Chacal de Nahueltoro) was an extraordinary account based on real events that took place in Chile at the beginning of the 1960s. An illiterate fieldworker lives with a woman and her six children. After a day of drinking, in which they are thrown out of their house by the landowner, he kills the woman and the six children. He is arrested, charged with murder and while the trial is under way he is fed and educated. He learns to read and write and becomes a 'citizen'. He declares himself 'a Chilean and a Catholic'. Once thus transformed, he is taken to sign his own death warrant and is executed. Littin's images of marginal life in rural Chile, his critique of the quasi-feudal Latifundio, the hypocrisy of class-biased justice, constitute a powerful mix of documentary and melodrama. As a result of this film he became one of the key names in the new Chilean cinema. The Jackal of Nahueltoro not only revealed his ability as a film-maker but also the politics that would drive his work.

An active militant of the Left, Littin was given the post of director of Chile-Films when Allende's Popular Unity came to power. He made The Promised Land (La Tierra Prometida) his second feature film. But in 1973, Pinochet's coup sent him into exile and, like a sad metaphor, The Promised Land left with him. …

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