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Marilú Mallet

(1944- )
Filmmaker and Writer


Born in Santiago, Chile in 1944, Marilú Mallet is a filmmaker and writer who came to Quebec as a political refugee after the coup d'état against President Salvador Allende in 1973. Unlike many refugees, she had grown up wealthy, lived in a large, beautiful home and had been a part of Chilean high society. Her father was the Minister of Education for Chile and a close friend of Salvador Allende. Through him she frequented the political elite of the country and even called Allende her uncle. Her mother, a painter, initiated Marilú to the arts at an early age.

After moving with her family to Europe in 1952 and then briefly to the United States, Mallet returned to Chile at the age of 20 to study architecture. Although this was not her first love, she considered it a safer profession than cinema. Once she obtained her diploma in architecture, she moved to Cuba to study at the film institute in Havana. She only stayed in Cuba one year, however, as she felt that women were restricted from participation in the business world and cultural and social activities.

When Allende's Popular Unity Party was elected in 1971, Mallet decided to work for the party while beginning her filmmaking career. She organized the distribution of films, and produced films herself on such subjects as folklorist Violette Para, the Indians of southern Chile, and the illiterate, working class' fight for recognition. Her involvement with Popular Unity temporarily interrupted her blossoming career, however, as she was selected as a delegate from the Chilean government to the United Nations.

Then President Allende was assassinated and General Augusto Pinochet came to power. All those who worked for Allende were blacklisted and pursued by the police. Mallet sought asylum in the Canadian embassy in Santiago and then came to Quebec as a political refugee.

Although she had not previously considered coming to Canada, she chose it because women's lives were less restricted in Canada than in most other countries. She was also familiar with the work of the National Film Board and knew that Canada was one of the few places in the world where film production was financed by the government.

While she faced considerable adversity in her new country, such as her inability to speak neither French nor English, and the loss of the social standing she had once enjoyed in Chile, Mallet carried on with her filmmaking career and her education. She earned a master's degree in art history and a PhD in French studies from the Université de Montréal. For many years she has taught film studies at several institutions in Montréal.

In 1980 she co-founded, with Dominique Pinel, les Films de l'Atalante. One of the most outstanding productions of this company was Mallet's own Journal inachevé (1982), which won the Prix de la critique québécoise and the Prix spécial du Jury at the Biarritz Film Festival in 1983. The film is a semi-autobiographical docudrama about a Chilean woman film director, who, like Mallet, lives and works in French-speaking Canada. The film examines some of the challenges faced by immigrants such as linguistic problems, loss of culture and friends, and memories of a home country that are not shared by one's peers. More specifically, the film looks at the difficulties experienced by women artists in exile, ranging from the misunderstanding and rejection of their work, to the power imbalance between themselves and the men in their lives, to the feeling that the imagination is wasted on the details of daily life.

In one particularly poignant scene in the film, after a heated discussion with her husband (Australian filmmaker Michael Rubbo) about her work, Mallet's character is driven to near hysteria by his passive-aggressive criticism of her "too subjective" approach to filmmaking. The spontaneity and intensity of her reaction and the way it is captured on film (a static long shot from an extreme high angle) has the effect of blurring the imaginary world of the film with the reality that this couple's relationship is disintegrating.

Immediately following this critical moment in the film, as if to emphasize both the solitude of immigrant women artists and their need to rely on their ethnic communities, Mallet goes on to interview other Chilean exiles (including writer Isabel Allende, daughter of Salvador Allende). These interviews end the film on a hopeful note, as Mallet concludes from the experiences of her peers that marginalization, while challenging, can also be a source of strength.

The immigrant experience has been central to Mallet's other films including Les Borges (1978), about a family that had immigrated to Montréal from Portugal in 1967; Il n'y a pas d'oubli (1975), which presents the lifestyle of a group of exiled Chileans living in Quebec; and Chère Amérique (1989), about two Montréal women — a young Quebec woman struggling with the conflicting desires to have children and to pursue a musical career and an older woman, Céleste, of Portuguese descent, who has sacrificed the love of her children to make her fortune in America.

Mallet has also written two collections of novellas, Les Compagnons de l'horloge-pointeuse (1981) and Miami Trip (1986). The stories of the first book are centred in the cataclysmic events leading up to and after the overthrow of the Allende government. The stories of Miami Trip focus on the tension, misunderstandings and frustrations inherent in relationships.

Mallet's recent projects include La Cueca Sola (2003), in which the filmmaker returns to Chile and tells the tragic yet uplifting stories of five women of different generations who suffered under Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship and emerged as heroes under democracy. Currently Mallet is working on a fictional film entitled Atacama. It is set in the Atacama Desert of Chile, a sparsely populated virtually rainless plateau, running from the Pacific Ocean to the Andes Mountains.

Marilú Mallet has now lived in Quebec for some 30 years, so her struggles to adapt to the culture and language are now behind her. Considering too that the changing political climate of Chile in recent years has made it a friendlier place to visit, it would seem that Marilú's isolation is in the past and her future is bright.

Resources

Bartlett, Sharyl Elizabeth. "See through Her Own I's: Women's Quest for Personal, Social and Spiritual Wholeness in Four Contemporary Canadian Narratives." M.A. thesis, Carleton University, 1987.

Longfellow, Brenda. "Feminist Language in Journal inachevé and Strass Café." Words and Moving Images: Essays on Verbal and Visual Expression in Film and Television. Edited by William C. Wees and Michael Dorland. Montréal: Canadian Film Studies I, 1984, p. 87.

Pallister, Janis L. The Cinema of Québec: Masters in Their Own House. Madison [N.J.]: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995.

Thibault, Michèle. "L'odyssée de Marilú Mallet." Châtelaine. Vol. 30, no 12 (December 1989), p. 141-146.

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