"Post Mortem," a film by Chilean director Pablo Larrain, recreates the autopsy of Chilean President Salvador Allende during the 1973 coup.
In the film, the autopsy is depicted in chilling scientific detail, in the presence of military representatives. Even the blown out skull of the late Marxist president is shown.
"If you read the autopsy of Allende, which is public, it's on the Web, you will find a very powerful text. It is the autopsy of Chile," Larrain said in an interview Sunday before the world premiere of his film at the Venice Film Festival. "Read the text of the autopsy, there's something so huge there. We wanted to talk about it, without judging it."
Larrain was born in 1976, three years after the violent coup. But he said the aftermath still grips Chilean society.
"Since I didn't live those days, I wanted to get closer. I felt there was something very important there for my generation that is not completely understood. I still don't get it. I don't understand what happened."
Formally ruled a suicide, the film suggests the possibility that Allende was murdered. But the movie isn't about the political events, rather they form the backdrop against which Larrain tells the story of two outsiders, completely extraneous to history, whose story unfolds amid the violence.
Mario Cornejo, played by Alfredo Castro, works in the Santiago morgue where Allende's body is brought. He chooses the day of the coup to finally act on his attraction for his neighbor, Nancy, a cabaret dancer played by Antonia Zegers who has been fired for falling on stage.
Neither seems to register on any emotional level the chaos around them, even though the coup in some way touches them personally. Cornejo is asked to record the details of Allende's deaths, and with two colleagues he dispassionately confronts the growing pile of bodies in the morgue that officials, in the early hours of the coup, wanted identified.
Nancy's father and brother, communist organizers, disappear in the violence.
"Mario and Nancy, they are losers, outsiders. They are out of history. They don't participate in the Allende project, or the right-wing," Castro said. "He is a very lonely man. He has love to give and he choses her. He's been watching her for years."
Larrain was inspired to make the film after reading a news story about the real-life Mario Cornejo, whose son has taken up his deceased father's work and helped as a consultant on the film.
He said the movie is meant to open discussion about events that still shape Chilean society, but doesn't propose a response.
"Augusto Pinochet died four years ago absolutely free with $30 million in his bank account. Three thousand people have disappeared. We don't know where they are. All the people who killed them, and disappeared them, are free. If someone thinks that it's finished, I tell you, I don't think so," Larrain said.
"I do believe there is something missing there. I want to go back there not to fix it, just to think about it, just to talk about it."
"Post Mortem" is among 22 films, plus a surprise film to be announced, that are competing for the Golden Lion to be awarded Sept. 11.