Sarmiento, Valeria 1948-

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SARMIENTO, Valeria 1948-


Born 1948, in Valparaiso, Chile. Education: Attended the Universidad de Chile, Viña del Mar; married Raúl Ruiz (a film director), 1969.


Writer, movie director, movie producer, and movie editor. Director of the films Sueño como de colores (documentary short; title means "I Dream in Color"), 1969; (director, with Raúl Ruiz, and coproducer and coeditor) Poesia popular: la teora y la práctica (documentary short; title means "Popular Poetry: Theory and Practice"), 1972; (and codirector and editor) Nueva cancin (chilena) (unfinished short; title means "New Song [Chilean]"), 1973; La Femme au foyer (La dueña de casa; The Housewife), (documentary short), 1975; Le Mal du pays (documentary; title means "The Bad Thing about This Country"), 1979; Gens de toutes partes, Gens de nulleparte (documentary; title means "People from Everywhere, People from Nowhere"), 1980; El hombre cuando es hombre (documentary; title means "A Man, When He Is a Man"), 1982; Latin Women (television documentary), 1992; Elle (title means "She"), 1995. Also editor of numerous films; actor in the film Diálogo de exiliados, 1974.


San Sebastian International Film Festival award for best new director, 1984, for Our Marriage.


(With Jose Trina; and director) Rosa La China (screenplay), Madragoa Filmes/Gemini Films, 2002.

Also director and author of the scripts for El Hombre cuando es hombre, 1982; Notre marriage (international English title Our Marriage), 1984; (written with husband, Raúl Ruiz) Amelia López O'Neil, 1990; and Inconnu de Strasbourg, 1998. Contributor to periodicals, including Marie-Claire, Positif, and Afterimage.


Valeria Sarmiento is a Chilean filmmaker. Although Chile's vibrant film culture gave birth in 1962 to the important international film festival at Viña del Mar, it is difficult to speak of a Chilean national cinema until the late 1960s. In the brief moment of Salvador Allende's presidency (1970-73), Chilean national cinema blossomed. Most of Chile's filmmakers supported Allende's Popular Unity coalition government. Despite political, ideological, and economic difficulties, they managed to make an unprecedented number of films, both independently and with state aid given through national universities, the Ministries of Agriculture and Education, and three state-owned television channels. In 1973 President Allende's government was ousted by a military coup. General Pinochet's repressive dictatorship brutally squelched opposition voices and many Chileans who had supported Allende fled their native land. Among those who went into exile were Chile's artists and filmmakers, most notably poet Pablo Neruda, novelist Isabel Allende, and filmmakers Miguel Littin, Raúl Ruiz, his wife Valeria Sarmiento, and Marilú Mallet.

Chilean cinema in exile, particularly in the immediate postcoup years (1973-79), has been referred to as a Cinema of Resistance. These films, while not a movement in the traditional aesthetic, theoretical, or political sense, shared common themes and goals: a celebration of Chilean culture as it grew under Allende; building a consensus against the military junta; and the liberation of Chilean and Latin American peoples governed by repressive regimes. Valeria Sarmiento is among this generation of Chilean filmmakers who began their careers in the 1960s and supported the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende with their films. Her husband, Ruiz, an internationally acclaimed filmmaker, was also politically active in the 1960s and throughout the Allende years. Sarmiento and Ruiz sought political asylum in Paris in the wake of the 1973 military coup. Sarmiento found it difficult to finance new film projects because she was not as well known as her husband. Many potential funders felt that Sarmiento's work was derivative of Ruiz's and did not merit their investments. Although she was able to make a living as an editor, Sarmiento still speaks of this period as one of the most difficult and demoralizing of her career. Her first films made in exile dealt specifically with exile and the exile's identity struggle in an adopted land. Subsequent projects explored constructions of Latin American identity in a more general sense. Although many of her films examine women's and feminist issues, their constant concern with Latin American realities prohibits pigeonholing her work as "feminist."

Sarmiento's first directorial effort, Sueño como de colores, was made in Chile during the Popular Unity years. A documentary about two striptease workers, the film was poorly received by critics, who felt it did not deal with the important issues of the moment. Specifically, although its subjects are working-class women struggling to get ahead, reviewers commented that the film did not deal with class and economic stratification, problems that the Allende government was trying to resolve.

Sarmiento's first documentary made in exile, The Housewife, finally produced in 1975, explores how the opposition mobilized Chile's bourgeois women against Popular Unity. The film revisits the inequities of Chile's classist society, picking up the dialogue of the Popular Unity cinema. For the second time, however, critics found this film to be only tangential to the issues of Chilean exile cinema. Sarmiento's approach to political issues, looking at them through the position of marginalized social players, sets her work apart from other Chilean filmmakers. Further, her innovative formal and aesthetic play teases the politics out even as it searches for a personal film language. As a result, Sarmiento's films are both intimate and pan-Latin American, a difficult balance that she reaches expertly.

In The Bad Thing about this Country, Sarmiento concerns herself with the exile of working-class Chilean children who fled Chile's slums for working-class French neighborhoods. It is a poignant portrait of children ages five to eight who long for their homeland and yet recognize the vast improvement in their quality of life.

Sarmiento made an international name for herself with A Man, When He Is a Man, a feature-length documentary that explores the theme of "machismo" in Latin American culture. The film analyzes how machismo is continued by the attitudes of both men and women. Filmed in Costa Rica and told largely from the perspective of men, the film also touches on romanticism in Latin American culture, demonstrating how romanticism and machismo overlap and feed each other. A Man, When He Is a Man uses the rites that mark different phases of a woman's life to examine how machismo is produced, maintained, and reproduced.

The critical success of A Man, When He Is a Man gave Sarmiento the opportunity to direct her first feature fiction film, Our Marriage. An adaptation of a novel by Corin Tellado, one of the most widely read romance novelists in Latin America, the film tells the story of a girl put into foster care because her father cannot afford to provide for her. Years later when her foster mother has died, her biological father gives the girl's foster father permission to marry her. In this and her subsequent feature films, Sarmiento matches her canny observations about Latin American and female identity with melodrama, perhaps the most beloved film and television genre in Latin America. Through melodrama she can throw into relief obsession, desire, sexuality, and morality—topics laid bare by Latin American melodrama, but paradoxically greatly repressed in Latin American polite society. Writing in the New York Times, Janet Maslin noted the film's "dark, somber visual style and a plot any soap-opera writer would kill for."

In her film Amelia López O'Neil, which she wrote with her husband, Ruiz, Sarmiento tells the story of Amelia, who comes from a family that was formerly well off. She lives with her mentally unstable sister, who is an invalid, in an old Victorian house where the ghost of her dead father regularly visits her. When she goes to a bar one evening, she is mistaken for a whore and taken home by a doctor. When the doctor realizes his error—Amelia is a virgin—he apologizes, but Amelia vows to be faithful to the doctor even though he is already married. The story's narrator is a perhaps unreliable magician and thief. Caryn James, writing in the New York Times, called the film "a beautiful, cracked tale of romantic obsession." Sarmiento also directed, and wrote with Jose Trina, the screenplay for Rosa La China. The film focuses on the owner of a Cuban nightclub, a chanteuse, and a young gigolo before Fidel Castro comes to power.



Framework (Norwich, England), number 34, 1987, M. Zuzana Pick, "Chilean Cinema in Exile (1973-1986)."

New York Times, April 1, 1985, Janet Maslin, review of Our Marriage; September 21, 1991, Caryn James, review of Amelia Lópes O'Neill.


Internet Movie Database, (July 20, 2006), information on author's films., (July 20, 2006), David Stratton, review of Rosa La China.*