Another Chilean short film was nominated for the Oscars. Bestia is about an especially depraved agent of the Pinochet dictatorship. Whether it wins the Oscar or not, just its nomination has already served to keep and process the memory of this horrific past.
The Oscar nomination for Bestia, a short film by Hugo Covarrubias and Tevo Díaz, shines a new light on the life of Ingrid Olderöck, known as the woman with the dogs.
Olderöck was an agent of the dictatorship’s secret police, DINA, from 1973 to 1977. Bestia tells the story of this perverse, cruel, and ruthless woman and so refreshes once again the memory of Chileans.
The film, which won an award at the Annecy Festival, the most important one for animated films, in June last year, forces us to revisit one of the most dramatic and chilling moments in our history. Thanks to his genius and talent, Covarrubias presents us, figuratively but starkly, a story that seems to be taken from a work of horror of Shirley Jackson or Stephen King.
Of course, the quality of the film, the emotional treatment, the way it addresses the loneliness of this really murderous, cold and sadistic agent, her impeccable stature, give the movie enough merits to win the Oscar. But the film is also a reminder for Chilean society, especially for younger generations who did not live under the dictatorship and did not experience the atrocities of repressive agencies like DINA and CNI. A good time to remember that these aberrant events must never be repeated.
Bestia was made with the stop-motion technique and does not have dialogue. It is based on the real life of the daughter of a former Nazi officer, Ingrid Olderöck, who had sadistic, cruel, and clearly psychopathic traits. Olderöck trained 70 other women on torture techniques, killings, and harassment to extract confessions, which in most cases ended the lives of detainees. Most shockingly, the former Carabineros police officer trained dogs to sexually abuse detainees in the clandestine torture site called La Discoteque or La venda sexy.
Without partner or children, her only company was her dog Volodia, whose name was inspired by a communist leader and which she used as a torture toy. Olderöck was also part of the Purén brigade, in charge of murdering and disappearing the bodies of illegally arrested people. Despite these unspeakable crimes, she never went to prison.
The Past Present
Bestia, but also Nancy Guzmán’s book La mujer de los perros (The women with the dogs), should help Chileans understand the horror brought by state agents and prevent it from ever happening again. Neither secret services, nor Carabineros – Olderöck was a major, a rank women could not normally access at the time – can be allowed to act this way, and even less outside the law. If that’s what an Oscar nomination is for – as before was Historia de un oso, which also reminded us of the dictatorship – a society that values the Awards will grapple with the ghosts and horrors of the past. Bestia is a masterful cultural piece to learn from our own history.
But Covarrubias’ film also serves to evoke figures we cannot forget like the cruel DINA director Manuel Contreras, or Miguel Krassnoff and Micheal Townley who assassinated Salvador Allende’s Foreign Minister, Orlando Letelier, in the heart of Washington.
Others depraved like Olderöck include civilians who endorsed the human rights violations, protected by ministries, embassies, high-level posts, and businesses, denying to exhaustion, swearing on the Bible that everything was a deception.
These beasts learned nothing from history and returned to commit more human rights abuses.
Hope in the Constitution
Thanks to Bestia, this dark, murky side we do not want to see or remember or learn about was put back on the agenda. Incidentally, the rules for the new Constitution are being discussed right now, in which human rights will be an essential pillar.
The constitutional convention has started processing 77 popular initiatives of which at least 15 focus on human rights, ranging from equal sexual rights, to life, education, health, etc. If we add the 900 initiatives presented by the constituents, the number of projects to guarantee truth, justice, reparation, and memory doubles. Consensus is that the state cannot harbor or protect any repressive entity, and that the entities that execute the state’s monopoly on violence can never act outside the law.
I imagine that young Carabineros will be dismayed by Olderöck’s story and feel ashamed of what that woman did.
Hopefully, Bestia wins the Oscar. However, the mere nomination has already fulfilled an important role for Chilean society: confront the unfinished past.
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.