Former Chilean President Salvador Allende remains a divisive figure more than 40 years after his death. The documentary Beyond My Grandfather Allende, being screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, shows that even his family is divided when talking about him.
Allende was elected to the presidency in Chile in 1970, carrying out his vision for “The Chilean Path to Socialism.” On Sept. 11, 1973, the Chilean military carried out a coup. It’s been said that Allende committed suicide before members of the military entered the presidential palace. While his family members have accepted his death as a suicide, many people don’t believe he killed himself.
In Beyond My Grandfather Allende, his granddaughter, Marcia Tambutti Allende (the director of the film), is shown with one of her cousins looking at newly found photographs of their grandfather. Marcia asks whether their grandmother, Hortensia Bussi, the former first lady of Chile (who was still alive during the filming of the documentary but died in 2009), has seen the photos.
Allende’s living daughters—Isabel Allende and Carmen Paz Allende—are shown. (Another daughter, Beatriz Allende, committed suicide in Cuba several years after the coup.) When Marcia tries to talk to Hortensia Bussi about her grandfather, Hortensia Bussi is hesitant to discuss him—stating that she is tired and wants to stop the interview. The coup deeply wounded the family, scattering the exiled family to Mexico, Cuba and other places around the world.
The film offers several revelations about Salvador Allende. A family friend discusses Allende’s numerous failed campaigns for various positions in the Chilean government, including three failed campaigns for president. Hortensia discusses how tiring the campaigns could be, and how long her husband would be away from the family. Salvador Allende was quite a ladies man, and Hortensia admits she knew about his extramarital affairs, but that their bond was nonetheless tight and couldn’t be broken.
Unfortunately, the film does not reveal much about the Allende family. Another one of the Allende grandchildren tells Marcia that the questions they have about their family are worthwhile, and they should get the answers. However, Marcia’s mother, Isabel—who recently served as a cabinet member in Chile’s government—tells her there needs to be an understanding as to why these questions are not up for discussion.
While the Chilean people argue over the coup and the Chile that followed under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Allende’s family members struggle over simple family history that they will not or cannot discuss. Beyond My Grandfather Allende doesn’t reveal much—except for the deep pain being suffered by Salvador Allende’s family.
Beyond My Grandfather Allende will again be screened as part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival at 3:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 5. For more information, visit the festival website.