Cognizant of the ever-raw emotion elicited by monumental civil unrest, Chilean producer-directors Carola Fuentes and Rafael Valdeavellano glimpse boldly into the Neoliberal structures that seemingly divided and destroyed a nation’s prosperity.
With a lens on the uphill battle to achieve a semblance of peace amidst a global pandemic, a country makes an historic and eager leap towards progress, a new constitution and leader at the fore.
“Breaking The Brick” dutifully follows the pair’s 2015 feature-length documentary, “Chicago Boys,” which interviewed authors in charge of drafting El Ladrillo, a Neoliberal free market text-turned economic model influenced by Milton Friedman and instituted by the Pinochet dictatorship. Though touted as a miraculous way to bring prosperity to Chile, the system eventually drew criticism when the public saw wealth disparities spiral.
The film begins with a delicate yet forceful metaphor that equates the populace to the cells within a caterpillar that have to fight vehemently with the body surrounding them to morph into soaring butterflies. The lines are read softly aloud as brutal scenes of upheaval in the streets and police violence against protestors are shown on screen. The unsettling juxtaposition further serves to highlight the perceived urgency of the movement.
“Shortly before the social explosion, this story by Deepak Chopra had come to us, which collects the thoughts of biologists and anthropologists, and compares the evolution of humanity with the processes of change in nature. They maintain that in the midst of the drama of transformation there’s always a group of cells, or people, who have the ability to imagine a better future, even if they don’t know it,” relays Fuentes.
The documentary closely scours the poignant lives of activist and teacher Mariana and unlikely ally, businessman and one of the economists in charge of creating the stifling economic climate, Ramiro. Their differences slowly diminish as both yearn for equity for all. The filmmakers dive into the precarious ease of remaining ignorant to the suffering of others. Using a bold approach that allows for introspection rather than rage, neither vilifying, excusing nor martyr-making, the subjects achieve equal and fair footing.
“Over the years we’ve stopped seeing the world in black and white. We believe that the media stereotypes that classify people as good and bad have kept us from the possibility of understanding the complexity of the social phenomena that have built our history,” says Valdeavellano.
He went on: “In our first film, ‘Chicago Boys,’ we interviewed the creators of neoliberalism. In ‘Breaking the Brick,’ where we see the long-term results of that economic model, we chose characters that would allow us to record and reflect the transformation that Chile is undergoing since the social outbreak. Entrepreneurs are a large part of that process. Ramiro seemed very interesting to us: Linked to the writing of El Ladrillo, successful, and owner of a considerable fortune. He’s a businessman who, in a moment of crisis and detachment, begins to look critically not only at his past life but also at that of his peers. Ramiro can be seen as part of the system that resists change, or, as another imaginative cell that, from his own world, also pushes for a better future.”
The film is at once unsettling and uplifting as our subjects work tirelessly to use their varying resources to assist their communities, highlighting the struggles of those living in poverty throughout the country.
“Milton Friedman taught us that ambition, consumption and competition would be the engine of the free market. Judging by the long-term results, that didn’t work out as expected. According to some thinkers, such as the Chilean Humberto Maturana [1928-2021], it’s collaboration that allows us to progress,” remarks Fuentes.
She went on, “Around the world, when communities face a catastrophe, an earthquake or a pandemic, solidarity springs up spontaneously. People with fewer resources live in crisis every day, which is probably why they experience solidarity on a daily basis. But, as we see in the film, solidarity can also be a way of calming the conscience, for those who exercise it out of compassion. Perhaps the challenge is to leave behind this asymmetric solidarity to move on to a more horizontal collaboration, which moves away from commiseration and is reflected in respect and interdependence beyond social classes.”
Clips of the film will be presented at this year’s Hot Docs Fest in Toronto on May 1 as part of their Works-in-Progress screenings, which feature segments from projects with cinematic potential in late or post-production.
Produced by Chile’s La Ventana Cine, “Breaking The Brick” is the only Latin American film selected for the showcase, lending the enormous opportunity to connect this touching, relatable and unprecedented event to a global audience.
“In much of the world we’re rethinking what we understand by development. For decades we associated it with economic growth. Chile showed that this goal alone isn’t enough. Our GDP increased but the average hid inequality and the concentration of wealth. Our exports grew but we degraded our nature. We improved our economic indicators but mental illness and indebtedness skyrocketed,” muses Valdeavellano.
He concludes, “In October 2019, the mirage was broken and although the model was violently defended, just as it was imposed during the dictatorship, today Chileans have the possibility of imagining a new paradigm. In Chile there are thousands of people – or cells – with imagination that are working for that, with cutting-edge ideas such as the circular economy or green energy. For half a century we let the pre-eminence of the economy become a threat to the well-being and dignity of people, today we can correct that path.”