Welcome to Chile

By Denise Roldán

In an age of walls and migrant caravans, the story of Steevens Benjamin becomes significant. He is an immigrant worker from Haiti who, for defending his friend against the racist comments of his boss, loses the stability he has earned and is excluded from his own circle, forced to wander about the city. Perro Bomba, the first feature film by Juan Cáceres, depicts the racism to which the Haitian community is subjected in Chile.

Substitute racial for class discrimination and we are faced with the Mexican situation, as well as that, unfortunately, of many other countries. “He’s just some Indian that someone filmed,” said a woman to her group of friends, after having asked Brian Reséndiz, a young filmmaker from Oaxaca, what he was doing in a hotel like that. The itinerant Ambulante Film Festival had invited him to present his latest short documentary, but the group of women assumed he must be the son of one of workers at the hotel. Exclusion both inside and outside of a production. Just as Steevens finds refuge in a marginalized community in Chile, Perro Bomba has enjoyed the support of a community of artists who joined the project when no government or private sector financing was forthcoming, because of the subject it dealt with. The issue of exclusion due to skin color and nationality is approached across the blurred line between artistic creation and reality. Although conceived as fiction, the film follows both paths: its esthetic is rather that of an informal documentary. The camera is treated as just another character, as Steevens’s inseparable companion. The story itself, however, which derives from a specific concern of Chilean society, moves forward by means of the narrative techniques typical of fiction, in sequences that highlight the main character’s emotional reactions. Steevens was suffocating down in that factory and had to climb the stairs to get some air. The soundtrack also provides a multicultural tone, in dialogue with the experience of Steevens: a deep voice singing papillon (‘butterfly’) over and over again marks the breaking point, when Steevens decides to cross over into a new situation.

The reality is given substance by the origins of both the main character and the director of the film. Steevens is working class, and Cáceres also comes from a poor background, being the first member of his family to go to university. Hence the naturalness with which they take their places in front of and behind the camera. As a result, PERRO BOMBA is able to draw on both personal testimony and improvisation.

In this first feature film, Cáceres and his team have achieved a production sufficiently solid to expose a social dilemma bedeviling a world that is little by little reasserting its borders, while putting issues of foreignness and the rejection of otherness on the table.

Translation: Gregory Dechant