El verano de los peces voladores (The Summer of Flying Fish, 2013)


Directed by Marcela Said

Written by Julio Rojas and Marcela Said

Starring Francisca Walker, Gregory Cohen, Carlos Cayuqueo, Guillermo Lorca, María Izquierdo


The Summer of Flying Fish is the first narrative film by Chilean director Marcela Said, who is known for her documentary works such as El Mocito and I Love Pinochet. It incorporates elements of a traditional coming-of-age tale, along with social and political commentary concerning the conflict between the indigenous southern Chilean Mapuche people and the state over land rights – the so-called “Mapuche movement”.

The film tells the story of Manena (Francisca Walker), a 16-year-old Chilean girl from an affluent family, who spends the summer on her father’s estate in the south of Chile. She spends her holiday like a typical upper-class Chilean teenager – making friends, exploring and looking for romance. In the process, she finds herself becoming more aware of the historical injustices and current friction between the local landowners of mainly European origin, represented by her father Pancho (Gregory Cohen), and the indigenous Mapuche community, after befriending Pedro (Carlos Cayuqueo), a Mapuche boy who works on her father’s land.

Despite the clear socioeconomic and racial tensions and the building sense of pressure, this is decidedly not an action movie. It often alludes to the issues occurring in the background through subtle scenes, such as snatches of conversation (between Pancho’s friends, or the Mapuche housemaids) that give an insight into the typical views of those involved on both sides of this conflict. Other scenes, such as a confrontation between protesters and police, are more reminiscent of news footage than narrative scenes in a dramatic movie.

The “Flying Fish” of the title refers to Pancho’s obsessive campaign against the carp that are growing uncontrollably in his adored artificial lake, culminating in the ill-advised use of dynamite to destroy them once and for all. Despite his exaggerated and faintly ridiculous crusade against this introduced and voracious species, the presence of the carp could be seen as a metaphor for the “introduced” European landowners who have upset the delicate ecosystem in which they have become the dominant species (although Pancho would probably prefer to identify the carp with the newly problematic natives who are interfering with the perfect rural retreats that he and his kind have created).

The narrative of the film is not tied to any particular period; there is never any mention of the year, or of the political administration, adding to the impression that the nature of the conflict is timeless (and shows no sign of abating). If it were not for a few minor contemporary details, this story could have been set at any point in the last 50 years.

The beautiful and evocative natural images and scenes of the southern Chilean wilderness are visually stunning, with steaming thermal pools, misty lakes and native trees growing with dihueñes (tree fungi), and the sounds of birds and the rustles of the forest add to the spellbinding atmosphere. This sense of the huge and unspoilt woodland is at times broken by evidence of rapacious Western industrialisation, most powerfully by a nocturnal scene showing huge logging trucks. The exploitation of natural resources is a fundamental source of contention in the dispute; this is not overtly discussed in the film, but scenes such as this provoke a feeling of indignation at this disregard for such natural beauty.

This film doesn’t meaningfully address the issues involved in this situation, preferring to portray events dispassionately rather than offer any comment or opinion on the matter. It may also be difficult at times for non-Chileans to follow, alluding as it does to events that are implicitly understood but not discussed openly in the media even in Chile. Nevertheless, it represents the first attempt to present this conflict to a Chilean and international audience, and should be applauded for its well-intentioned ambitions, although future efforts to deal with this topic may dare to go further.

El verano de los peces voladores – Trailer

Ana Zumelzu comes from southern Chile and lives in Glasgow with her husband and daughter. She is a student of Creative Writing at Glasgow University, and enjoys reading, writing and watching films in English and Spanish, as well as the marvelous Glaswegian climate, which reminds her of home.

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