I missed this film when it premiered at the end of the Glasgow Film Festival last year. It is now slowly making its way around the UK and if it comes it appears anywhere near you, please make an effort to see it. You won’t be disappointed. On a wet windy evening in Hebden Bridge it was a rare treat to be confronted with a queue outside the Picture House – and applause at the end of the screening. It is showing again in West Yorkshire at the Shipley Community Cinema on 18th January (other venues for the ‘rolling’ distribution are listed on the website).
The film’s title neatly encapsulates its political and comradely subject matter. ‘¡Nae pasaran!’ has become familiar with resistance to fascism across the Hispanic world. The slogan, “They shall not pass!” was associated with the Basque Republican fighter La pasionaria (Dolores Ibárruri) during the Battle of Madrid in 1936. In its current context it refers to the actions of Scottish engineering workers at the Rolls Royce factory in East Kilbride who ‘blacked’ the Avon aero engines sent to the factory for overhaul in 1974 after the military coup in Chile in September 1973. This action meant that the workers (in a totally unionised plant) refused to work on engines that the Pinochet regime in Chile might use in their Hawker Hunter aircraft to suppress any opposition to the new fascist dictatorship. The action was prompted by one of the workers appointed as an ‘inspector’ of the engines. Eight engines were placed outside the factory where they slowly deteriorated until four of them were ‘spirited away’ one night using blackleg transport. The story may have remained an ‘anecdote’ but for the investigative work of the filmmaker Felipe Bustos Sierra, the son of an exiled Chilean journalist in Belgium who first made a successful short film and then expanded it into this feature-length documentary.
Sierra interviewed the surviving workers involved in the strike/boycott and then went to find witnesses in Chile. I think he began the project in 2013 (the first of the Chilean interviewees died in 2014 according to the closing credits). The worker who began the action, Bob Fulton, is I think 90 when we see him in the film. It’s impossible to watch this true working-class hero (and his two colleagues) without welling up. Sierra has found some truly shocking footage to illustrate the horrors of the coup. I’ve seen the two Patricio Guzmán documentaries in recent years, Nostalgia for the Light (2010) and The Pearl Button (2015) both of which explore the horrors of the dictatorship but I’m still shocked with the ferocity and inhumanity of what happened on September 11th 1973. Some of the footage in Nae Pasaran was new to me. I think the shots of the nun who waited by the river to fish out the floating corpses of workers and activists murdered in the night will remain with me.
Sierra discovers some of the Chileans who survived incarceration, possibly as a result of the Scottish workers’ action which was part of an international campaign of solidarity. Labour returned to power in the UK in 1974 and the new ministers, Judith Hart and Alex Lyon both helped to make the UK a possible place of exile for Chileans. Even so they ran up against civil servants and military chiefs who made it difficult to clear the exiles and to grant refugee status. The British military would seemingly still rather listen to the CIA, who allegedly helped Pinochet mount the coup against a democratically elected government, than to refugees who had witnessed murder and torture. A credit at the end of the film tells us that Rolls Royce and the RAF were not prepared to make statements to the filmmaker. Sierra also interviews some of those who worked for the junta, including a retired Air Force General who still seems incapable of remorse.
Most of all though, many audiences will be moved by the humanity and solidarity expressed through the contacts between the East Kilbride workers and the Chilean survivors. Felipe Bustos Sierra is based in Edinburgh and he has an easy rapport with the retired workers in the pub, showing them his interviewees in Chile expressing their gratitude for the solidarity of the Scottish workers and explaining what it meant to them. Some were convinced that it helped them be released and travel to Europe. The film ends with a public presentation of honours granted to the three leaders of the strike action in 1974. Go and see this film. It is well-made and tells its story powerfully. It will make you feel better and remind you of what solidarity means – and why trades unions are an essential part of any democracy. I certainly feel humbled and wished I had done more to help in 1974-5.
The Maid is an intriguing little film. I went into the screening thinking that this might be a film with a twist. I’d flicked through a couple of reviews that clearly missed the point. There are no sudden narrative twists – although there is a narrative that isn’t predictable.
The titular character is Raquel, who at the beginning of the film has her 41st birthday when she is given presents by various members of the family for which she has worked as a maid for more than 20 years. But we gradually realise that Raquel is not well. She has headaches and takes pills. She seems to be getting grumpier and is displaying classic symptoms of passive-aggressive behaviour. Pilar the university teacher mother of four children and wife of Mundo thinks that Raquel needs a rest and attempts to hire a second maid to help her run the household. Raquel resists and when a Peruvian young woman is hired, she determines to get her out. I won’t spoil the rest of what happens – only say that the events are not always predictable.
Since I saw the film, I have looked at some other reviews and one of them mentioned Chabrol. Certainly when I was watching La Nana I did think of Chabrol’s La céremonie (but not the violence in that film). I know little about Chilean society, so I must go on a general impression of Latin American Cinema in classifying La Nana as a drama about social class in some way. It’s a subtle film and Catalina Saavedra as Raquel offers a sensitive and nuanced performance. The obvious reference point might be Luis Buñuel and the films that he made in Mexico, but I’m not sure that is helpful here. The bourgeois family are quite modern with a modern attitude to employing workers. They don’t behave in a particularly obnoxious way and apart from sneaking off to play golf and owning a swimming pool, Mundo isn’t particularly decadent. These are modern professionals with the casual callousness of the liberal middle classes, but no malice towards house servants.
The film is very claustrophobic. Raquel leaves the house and its gate and high walls only four times in all. The film is shot in a handheld style probably on digital (the director says that he cut red out of the palette as it doesn’t work on digital) and the look is clean and bright. The success of the film is in developing a representation of a particular kind of working-class life that isn’t necessarily physically hard or even particularly underpaid. Instead, Raquel has given up a private life (and any romances) and invested her emotional energy in her employer’s children. Her birthday and her phone calls to her own mother now seem to weigh heavily as she contemplates her future. I wouldn’t want this to sound like a miserabilist film, because it isn’t. It’s a superior psychological drama that is well-directed.
Here is a US trailer for the film:
Pressbook from Artificial Eye.