SANTIAGO – Tatiana Gaviola builds a nostalgic and tragic movie around one of the most brutal events of the dictatorship. In 1986, photographer Rodrigo Rojas and Carmen Gloria Quintana were on their way to a protest against Pinochet when they were accosted by soldiers and set on fire. With great set design and attention to detail, the feature film captures the photographer’s last months.
Based on one of the most brutal events of the dictatorship, La Mirada Incendiada takes viewers through the final months of photographer Rodrigo Rojas, before he and Carmen Gloria Quintana were set on fire by soldiers during the Pinochet dictatorship. Rojas died from his injuries but Quintana survived.
The movie transports viewers to what life was like during those dark years, showing how Rojas arrived in Chile and how he acclimated to the country that he had fled from as a child. All the while, small events and conversations hint at his tragic end. The film helps viewers understand the lives behind the event, showing that they were more than simple statistics of the dictatorship.
The life of Rodrigo Rojas
The film begins with Rodrigo Rojas, played by Juan Carlos Maldonado, trying to find his aunt’s house in Santiago. He stops at a corner to take a picture, but is quickly told not to by an elderly woman. She asks him if he’s from Chile, to which he responds that he is Chilean but had been living outside since the start of the dictatorship.
With this simple introduction, we learn what we need to know about the character, he was a refugee and has returned home to a different country, unaware of the day-to-day reality. We get more information about him when he arrives at his aunt’s house: he is a photographer who is there to take pictures for an upcoming book about life in the country.
As the movie progresses, there is a focus on Rojas and his life in Chile, especially the relationships that he builds with his aunt and cousins, as well as the other people around him. He gets a job at a photo developing store while also photographing protests for a left-wing magazine.
One of the difficult things of adapting a well-known story is that viewers know how the story will end. The movie uses this to its advantage, giving small hints at Rojas’s fate, with numerous scenes dedicated to the use of petrol in a normal Chilean household, the same petrol that was used to burn Rojas alive.
Juan Carlos Maldonado helps sell the naïveté of the character as well as his defiance against the Carabineros (Chile’s national police force) and soldiers who confront him at different points in the film. Other notable actors include the highly-acclaimed Catalina Saavedra as his aunt and Gonzalo Robles as his boss at the store.
One aspect that detracts from the immersive quality of the film, and that seems almost condescending, is the addition of a narrator, who explains what Rojas is feeling and doing.
Recreating 1980s Chile
Among the biggest achievements of the film are its set and costume designs. The scenes set inside homes have an incredible attention to detail, right down to the radio that was constantly blaring in certain scenes. The clothes seem worn and real, unlike most movies set in the 1980s, in which the clothes tend to be exaggerated to what the public perception of that decade is.
Small events in the film are evocative of the stories of the people who lived through them, for example, the constant black-outs or how any simple gathering could be interrupted by Carabineros or soldiers.
The movie also uses film editing to mark specific emotions in different scenes. There are hardly any edits or camera movements when Rojas is spending time with his family or friends, in contrast with the protest scenes where the cameras are shaky and frenetic, so that we feel the disorientation Rojas must have felt.
Sound design follows a similar rule, during scenes that showcase Rojas with his family, the sound is clear, but when he is hit by a Carabinero or taken by soldiers, the sound is muted.
Overall, La Mirada Incendiada is a great film that captures life under the Pinochet dictatorship. The film rises above others in the genre by focusing on the life of Rodrigo Rojas instead of on the crimes committed against him.