Venice film sets love story amid Chile's 1973 coup

VENICE Sun Sep 5, 2010 10:20am EDT

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VENICE (Reuters) - "Post Mortem", a Chilean film premiering at the Venice festival on Sunday, sets a doomed love story between a morgue worker and a dancer against the backdrop of the 1973 military coup that toppled Salvador Allende.

The film is the latest in a series of Latin American titles tackling dictatorship and political turmoil in the region, a theme that has caught Hollywood's attention. Argentina's "The Secret in Their Eyes" won the best foreign film Oscar this year.

The lead male character of the Chilean film is Mario Cornejo, who transcribes autopsy reports at a morgue fast filling with the bodies of civilian victims in the days leading to Augusto Pinochet's overthrow of Allende.

Cornejo, an awkard, withdrawn and passive man who shows little emotion for what is happening around him, falls for his neighbor Nancy, a cabaret dancer whose family is involved in pro-democracy political activities.

When Nancy's house is ransacked by the military, Cornejo starts looking for her -- like many families whose loved ones went missing in the violence.

Director Pablo Larrain, who was born in 1976 in Santiago, said the film was his personal attempt to understand events he did not experience first-hand through the eyes of two ordinary people without taking the moral high ground.

"This film does not intend to be a pamphlet or be in any way ideological," Larrain, who also set his 2007 film "Tony Manero" in the Pinochet era, said.

"My first memories are of the last years of the dictatorship ... I did not live through it, I created my own judgment from snippets of memories coming from other people but it's something I have not fully resolved or understood yet and that is what draws me to this topic."

The film, which has a grim final twist, is loosely based on the real life of Cornejo and includes some graphic scenes of the autopsy performed on Allende after he apparently committed suicide.

Those scenes were shot in the same room of the Santiago military hospital where the real post-mortem examination took place.

"This is the first time in which the body of Salvador Allende is shown (in a fictional film), with great sensitivity," said Alfredo Castro, who plays Mario Cornejo.

"Salvador Allende has been seen in many documentaries, his last few days have been depicted. But it's the first time in the history of cinema in which his body is actually seen and shown as it is in this film ... it has been dealt with a lot of respect."

Early reviews of "Post Mortem", one of 23 films in the main competition line-up in Venice, were positive.

Trade publication Variety called it "enthralling" and praised the director's "breathtaking visual command," though it cautioned that its style and long takes were set to divide even seasoned arthouse viewers.

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