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With: Brian Cox, Anna Chennault, Amy Goodman, Alexander Haig, Seymour Hersh, Christopher Hitchens, Barbara Howar, Henry Kissinger, Michael Korda, Lewis Lapham, Geoffrey Robertson, William Safire, Rene Schneider Jr., Michael Tigar
Written by: Eugene Jarecki, Alex Gibney
Directed by: Eugene Jarecki
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 80
Date: 06/14/2002

The Trials of Henry Kissinger (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Politics as Usual

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Castro Theatre bravely and defiantly screens two political documentaries together, both ostensibly about war criminals and the fight to bring them to justice. It may be weird to speak of Henry Kissinger and Augusto Pinochet as if they were cut from the same cloth, but after seeing these two films, their connection becomes clear. Both films open today and play for a week. Tickets are $8 each or $12 for a special double feature.

Screening first, The Trials of Henry Kissinger proved far more lucid, entertaining and journalistically intact than the second film. In fact, it spends about five minutes on Pinochet and imparts about the same amount of raw information as the entire 110-minute The Pinochet Case. Trials cleverly depicts Kissinger's rise to power -- his support of Nelson Rockefeller until he lost the Republican nomination to Nixon, then Kissinger's bouncing back and forth between Nixon and Hubert Humprhey before finally settling in with the winner, Nixon. Once affiliated with the White House, he helped engineer some of the more devious attacks in the Vietnam War, but the movie saves his most sinister activities until the end. According to the film, in the early '70s he helped assassinate the communist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, and even went so far as to send a load of guns to help with the job. Worse, Allende's successor was none other than Pinochet, who set up a dictatorship and ruled for almost two decades. It's hard now to remember a time when we as a country were more frightened of communists than of dictators and terrorists. But there you go. Director Eugene Jarecki and co-writer/co-producer Alex Gibney present this material in a lean 80 minutes with plenty of revealing interviews and archival footage. They use music to brilliant effect, lightly underscoring the action with emotional pop songs. They even liven things up with a tribute to Kissinger's playful public life, accompanied by Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff." Brian Cox (the original Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter) narrates.

On the other hand, The Pinochet Case director Patricio Guzmán seems more interested in blatantly burning film with several long mosaics of people's blank faces -- faces of victims, family members, passersby, anyone he can get to stand still long enough. He also fills time with shots of a cleaning lady dusting the House of Lords and of rocks sliding down a dusty hillside. The third part of a trilogy, the film attempts to follow the process of arresting and trying Pinochet. In 1998, he was nabbed while vacationing in London, but his governmental immunity kept getting in the way. Guzmán interviews several survivors who were tortured in Chile under Pinochet's rule and several more lawyers involved with the case. Yet for some reason, he can't seem to get anywhere near the story's center. Pinochet himself maintained that he didn't know anything about torture, and he still has his adamant supporters, which Guzmán shows but doesn't question. Why do people still like him? What caused him to torture people? We never find out. Watching The Pinochet Case is more like joining a protest than it is discovering any hard facts. It's as if, in a theoretical documentary about the 2000 U.S. election fraud, a filmmaker asked only voters about the events, ignoring politicians and policy makers. It makes for an entertaining film -- the voters are outraged and passionate -- but do they really have any real perspective on what happened?

Perhaps this pairing would have worked better if the films were screened in reverse order. In any case, don't miss The Trials of Henry Kissinger.

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