Pinochets Last Stand
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In 1973 General Augusto Pinochet overtook Chile in a violent military coup. During his 17-year rule he ruthlessly repressed all opposition to his regime leading to the deaths of 3000 civilians and the torture of another 30000. HBO Films presents the fascinating true story of the former dictator's surprise 1998 arrest for crimes against humanity while undergoing back surgery during a vacation in London. Caught in international conflict Pinochet's (Emmy Award winner Derek Jacobi) time in London forever changed his life - and the prospects for dictators across the globe.Running Time: 77 min.Format: DVD MOVIE Genre: TELEVISION/HBO UPC: 026359424021 Manufacturer No: 94240
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At the beginning, as is often the case with a docudrama, the film reminds you that it's based on fact, but some characters may be made up. Okay, I'll buy that.
Then the screen shows some of the atrocities of which Pinochet was accused: 3,000 dead and 30,000 tortured. The script added in a few places that about 1,200 disappeared too. (The activist with the most prominent role in the cast, Nicole Prouilly, had a sister who was among the 1,200).
Then, onto the story: General Pinochet is visiting UK for back surgery. Activists from UK's Amnesty International office, having tried unsuccessfully to have Pinochet arrested in the past, try again. They appeal to Home Secretary Jack Straw who then arrests Pinochet who's still recovering from the surgery.
Pinochet, played masterfully by Derek Jacobi, shows the hubris one would expect from a dictator. He's arrogant, can't believe that he's under arrest, even though he's sent to a rather elegant house used often by English show biz personalities. He gets put in his place by a young policewoman.
When Madame Pinochet leaves, Augusto says one of the most intriguing lines of the script: "So much time alone with my wife; the one masterstroke of my enemies."
In the meantime, the Pinochets hire Michael Caplan as their defense attorney. He attempts to convince the courts--and the Pinochets--that they are "victims of politics." He, in fact, seems a little dismayed when Pinochet says to him that, "Friends call me 'my general.'"
The Amnesty activists are doing their best to see to Pinochet's extradition to Spain where he was to undergo trial for crimes against humanity. First, UK's House of Lords votes 3 to 2 against Pinochet's immunity. (I was surprised that Tony Benn was one who voted for it!) Then there were the appeals, Madame Pinochet's accusing the defense attorney of doing it all for the money, the courts debating whether to sustain the House of Lords' vote or not. Then a pro-Pinochet PR campaign began, with the general insisting that he as a "dictator," only in the Roman sense, i.e., he took absolute control only to dispel an "emergency." Eventually the High Court deciding that Pinochet can be extradited, i.e., in favor of the activists.
In the meantime, "Baroness," former prime minister Thatcher" enters the picture. I've never been a Maggie Thatcher fan. Her reactionary politics have infected the British system and it'll be a while before they recover from it. And her entering into English "aristocracy" is a symbol of how reactionary she was. But I hope the role she played in the Pinochet scheme was hyperbole. She was more arrogant than Pinochet, accused the British government of criminal behavior in arresting Pinochet. And the woman playing the "baronness," Anna Massey, was remarkable. Of course, most of what Thatcher did was show business, done for the camera and for HER benefit.
To make a long story short, Pinochet eventually relied on a medical excuse for not being extradited. He feigned dementia, went through a battery of medical and psychiatric tests to determine that he couldn't stand trial. He was sent back to Chile where he got out of the wheelchair, and seemed a lot healther than when he left UK. He died, after having been charged and tried for nothing, in 2006.
While this isn't exactly an action film, the characters made the story move. One pivotal character, in fact, was Jack Straw's son, played by Gethin Anthony. He learned of some of his father's earlier political activities while this case developed. His pride in his father was formidable. He was, however, let down when his dad gave into Pinochet's alleged inability to stand trial. According to the script, Straw felt it was no longer expedient to hold Pinochet, and his son was visibly disappointed.
Then there was the young policewoman assigned to the house in which Pinochet was incarcerated. She'd put down the arrogant Pinochet, seemed to have endeared him, but was never sure. She left to get married, then returned, and was never sure whether Pinochet's disability was an act.
The script was well done, and the acting fabulous. How accurate was it? Well, I don't know that it will convince anyone who believed in Pinochet's innocence. A docudrama will seldom if ever do that. But if you want something to think about, or to show to, say, a high school or college class on issues of human rights in South America, I would put this on the list of films I would show.
Expatriate Chileans are just itching for the man code-named "the gentleman" to arrive in the United Kingdom so they can have him detained by the court. When he does, they get their wish.
One thing that stands in the way of turning him over is that Britain did not adopt laws against torture on foreign soil until 1988. Any torture committed before then cannot be considered.
While the British Chileans explore every judical loophole to have Pinochet account for his crimes, the former dictator's lawyers mount a professional defense, and pressure on the home secretary to release him is intense. That includes pressure from the United States, Tony Blair, and the Vatican.
Into the mix comes a visit from Lady Thatcher, former prime minister of Great Britain, who gushes over the man as the "Savior of Chile." (This was the one surprise to me in the whole film, that Margaret Thatcher would have even considered the company of a mass murderer).
The Chileans too keep up the pressure, but in the end he is able to play the fool and be judged medically and psychologically incapable of standing trial. Pinochet returns to Chile, where he discards his walker after deplaning, and continues unattended.
The short drama lacks the same despite the superb acting of Derek Jacobi who plays in the title role, with a supporting cast that is top-drawer. It is the acting that carries a sparse storyline, and nudges it to the three star mark. The bottom line is the question, would I want to sit down and watch this again?
The answer is unfortunately, no.