El Chacal de Nahueltoro

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(The Jackal of Nahueltoro)

Chile, 1969

Director: Miguel Littin

Production: Cine Experimental de la Universidad de Chile, Cinematografia Tercer Mundo; black and white, 16mm and 35mm; running time: 88 minutes.

Screenplay: Miguel Littin; photography: Hector Rios; editor: Piedro Chaskel; music: Sergio Ortega.

Cast: Nelson Villagra (José); Shenda Roman (Rosa); Luis Melo (Mayor); Ruben Sotoconil (Corporal Campos); Armando Fenoglio (Priest); Marcelo Romo (Reporter); Luis Alarcon (Judge); Hector Noguera (Chaplain); Pedro Villagra (Firing squad captain); Roberto Navarette (Prison Director).



Littin, Miguel, El Chacal de Nahueltoro—La Tierra Prometida, Mexico, 1977.

West, Dennis, in Magill's Survey of Cinema—Foreign languageFilms edited by Frank Magill, New Jersey, 1985.


Callenbach, E., Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1971–72.

Martinez, F., and others, Hablemos de Ciné (Lima), January-March 1972.

Weiner, B., "Films of the Revolution" in Take One (New York), April 1972.

Welsh, H., Jeune Cinéma (Paris), May-June 1975.

Lafond, J.D, Image et Son (Paris), May 1975.

Palma, E., "El Chacal de Nahueltoro: tiempo de encuentro con su destinario" in Cine Cubano (Havana), 1981.

Lopez, A., "Parody, Underdevelopment, and the New Latin American Cinema" in Quarterly Review of Film & Video (Reading), May 1990.

Thomson, F., "Metaphors of Space: Polarization, Dualism and Third World Cinema," in Screen (Oxford), no. 1, 1993.

Vega, E. de la, "Fichero de cineastas nacionales," in Dicine, March 1993.

Pratt, Mary Louise, "Overwriting Pinochet: Undoing the Culture of Fear in Chile (The Places of History: Regionalism Revisited in Latin America)," in Modern Language Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 2, June 1996.

* * *

Miguel Littin, born in 1942, trained in the theatre as an actor, but had a greater interest in television. He worked as a producer and director, becoming increasingly interested in film. In 1969 he was one of the founding members of the Committee of Popular Unity filmmakers along with Patricio Guzman.

By 1969, when El Chacal de Nahueltoro was made, Chile was already several years into a land reform program which aimed to redistribute land holdings across the country. In 1970 the Marxist government of Salvador Allende took power after the first democratic elections in the country, and Littin was made director of the state production company, Chile Films, working on weekly documentary newsreels. So the background against which Littin's first full-length feature film was made was one of political upheaval and turmoil in his country, but also a more liberal one in which indirect criticism of the government had become possible.

The film El Chacal de Nahueltoro, made in black and white, is based on the true story of a crime that scandalized Chile in 1960. An illiterate peasant, Jose del Carmen Valenzuela, played by Nelson Villagra, murdered his wife Rosa and her five children. Jose was imprisoned, taught to read and write, and also given religious instruction whilst in jail, and then executed by firing squad. Littin's film stands as a powerful accusation of the crimes of the prevailing Chilean dictatorial regime.

The power of the film as a criticism of the government and social system in Chile comes not only from its content but also from its style. The two distinct styles—the first half a documentary-style dealing with events leading up to Jose's multiple crime, and the second half a more conventional narrative-fiction style that narrates the events after Jose's imprisonment, together form a powerful juxtaposition that unleashed Littin's criticism of the Chilean judicial system, according to A. Lopez in Quarterly Review of Film and Video. Instead of the usual cinematic disclaimer that no character portrayed is real by design or accident, the boundaries between fiction and fact are deliberately confused by news-style footage of actors portraying real-life events. In the first half of the film we follow the investigations of an unidentified mustached reporter who tracks down the story. We hear Rosa's voice intoning the findings of the court in Jose's case, a news announcer sensationalizing the horrors of the case and Jose himself telling us of his experience in distant tones. The soundtrack of the first half is used as the record, rather than the images. The camera work of this section is uneven, jumpy, full of short cuts and hand-held camera work—documentary-style in fact. Jose's arrest is portrayed in a manner that is direct and physical. After Jose's imprisonment the style of the film changes and becomes more conventional—as Jose's character grows and develops so does the style of filming, becoming less intrusive. By the end of Jose's time in prison he can tell a story and compose a poem, and can write enough to sign his own death certificate. We see him become a part of civilized society before he is executed.

The contrast of style serves to emphasize the message. As the film slips into conventional cinematic story-telling mode, we become less aware of our role as observer and more involved in the story-asfiction. We are then brutally reminded that what we are seeing actually happened—and shocked as we are once again confronted with violence, when Jose is executed.

Littin's point here is the ultimate irony that Jose was educated, taught the benefits of human civilization only in order to die. As he said, Chilean society humanizes in order to destroy.

The film was well received in Chile and was awarded the Chilean Critic's Prize of 1970. It also made Miguel Littin a star in the Latin American film world. Latin American critics said that it was not a great film, (Hablemos de Cine, Peru, March 1984) because the meshing of the two styles of narrative did not entirely work, but it is still considered one of Littin's better pieces of cinema, and stands as a powerful critique of a brutal and inhumane regime, and a valuable historical document of a rare period of liberalization in Latin American politics of this era.

—Sara Corben de Romero