Pablo Larrain Discusses Post Mortem

Chilean director Pablo Larrain talks about Post Mortem, his unsettling follow up to Tony Manero, set during the coup in Chile in 1973.

Why have you returned to this period after Tony Manero?

“It's not enough for me yet. I didn't live it and it's like a big ghost in my generation. Think about it: Pinoche died three or four years ago, with $30 million, and free. We still have three-thousand people disappeared, we have nobody in jail. If somebody thinks it's enough, I would say, 'I don't agree with it.' And since I didn't live that period, I think it's important for me and my generation to go back there and to re-feel it, re-think it."

And you're doing this purely from imagination?

"Yes, I just have what I've been reading and what I've been told by others. I think it's interesting to create something from nothing, just imagination. We want to talk about it because I feel that I still don't get it. So I want to go there and sit in front of that again, see it and feel it."

You're trying to understand what happened, even though you weren't there?

"Yeah, it confuses me. I'm going to do another [film about this]. It's going to be a trilogy, and that's it. I swear I will go and do something else.”

You have said that there are some parts in the film that came from concrete and historical information. Would that be in the hospital scene, for instance, where the bodies are piling up? You seem to capture a feeling of hysteria?

“Yeah, you know we didn't have enough room to show the real amount of bodies that were there. Fiction is never enough. Even though you try it, you will never even be close to it. If you get in to the research, if you read [Salvador] Allende's autopsy, if you get close to it, you will figure that it's something that you're not going to grab. But this is not a statement. This is not a Che Guevara statement or whatever. It's just a movie.”

The script developed over an extended period. Can you talk about its development?

“The script used to be huge. It used to be like 150 pages, which would almost be a three-hour film. But it was the same with Tony Manero. It's a good way of working, I guess. You write a lot more than what you need, and then you start to be economic and then you go back to the essence of the film, and you pull out a lot of things before you shoot, and then you pull out a lot of things after you shoot. It's a process. The films that I have done are a process. It takes you a lot to get there, but it's a beautiful experience.”

You show Allende's autopsy in forensic detail. Is it as it happened?

“You go to Google and it's the official autopsy. It's what I read. It's the entire plan. And we shot it entirely. It was like a 40-minute scene. The autopsy is absolutely real.”

Is the real Mario, Alfredo Castro's character who is present at the autopsy, alive or dead?

“He's dead. But his son, who is also called Mario Cornejo, works in the same job today, and he acts in the film. he's the guy who helps the doctor. He's always beside him.”

That's weird.

“Well we invited him and he said okay.”

How did you find him?

“It's amazing because Mario Cornejo's father never talked about it in 30 years with his son. This is how it began: I was reading the paper and there was an article about Allende's autopsy. I read it and I thought it was amazing. It's like the autopsy of Chile there. If you read it, it's the whole history of Chile synopsised in three pages. And there were three people: two of them are very well known doctors who lead their entire lives talking about it. And then there is this third, lesser-known one. I said, who is Mario Cornejo?"

What did you do?

"I started to research and I hired a guy, like a private investigator, and we found him [the son]. Wow! We went to his home, and said, 'Hello', and he got some information. He didn't know much because his father was a guy who didn't speak. So then from there we started to create the story that's in the film.”

The fictional Mario is a mysterious character, in a sense, because we don't know what happened to the real Mario?

“Yes, but I don't know what's going on in your head and you don't know what's going on in mine. Films today have done some sort of damage in the culture in that you have to know everything about them. They have to be morally respectful. You have to learn something. There has to be redemption at the end. I don't really respect that, because it's not exactly the way we are.”

Is the coup and the CIA involvement still something that you think is of interest outside Chile?

“It's a good question but I just do what I feel. There are two types of directors: people who lived it and people who didn't live it. So there are two different types of movie. I'm the one who didn't live it. So it's so different.”

The last scene seems suggestive of the way people disappeared and haven't been found.

“Yeah, you know what they did in Chile? They would throw the bodies in to the sea, 400 kms from the Chilean coast. It was a very long trip. Those bodies completely vanished. Three thousand people disappeared in Chile. We don't know where they are. So it's a metaphor. And what I like about it is it's not a political move, it's a passionate move. So I twist everything. It's very common: you have a neighbour and then the neighbour would do something bad to you and you would call the military and say, 'This guy's a Communist.' So this interest was used with a different purpose. Not everything was connected to an ideology. The Nazis were the same. They would accuse you of being Jewish without being Jewish. It was used with a different purpose.”

Some Germans have said that they're tired of being reminded of the Holocaust. Is it important to keep reminding people what happened in Chile, and do you need to find new ways to do it?

“Yes, of course. You see The White Ribbon [Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or-winning film about the roots of Nazism]? Whether you like it or not, it's an interesting film because it uses the same subject but from a different point of view. I want to talk about [what happened in Chile] and in my country they say, 'Why are you making this film again about the same subject? Why don't you make a surfers film or whatever.' I want to do it because I don't get it yet, I just don't understand it. There's something missing.”

Families are still touched by what happened, you've got to talk about it, even though you weren't there?

“Exactly. You've got to talk about it because if we were Romans and we were living 2000 years ago we'd be talking about the invasion or the massive killings or whatever. We're talking about what's going on now.”

It's about memory.

“Yes, without memory you are dead. You're plastic. See what's going on with the Jews and the Palestinians today. And the Americans are still in Afghanistan and Iraq. South of Chile there are heaps of [Generals?] who are Nazis. South of Argentina, hundreds. They're there fly fishing every day, having smoked salmon. Alive. So this is not finished.”

© Stephen Applebaum 2011

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