CH 1995 90'
A portrait of a son of European immigrants, a military man who turned revolutionary: Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was elected 1950 President of Guatemala. Arbenz attempted to abolish stiff, absolute colonial structures in which the majority, Indios, were expected to live in abject poverty, subjected to the social stratification upheld by Guatemala's ruling class. In his attempts to redistribute property by offering land titles to farm families, Arbenz was met with much political opposition, and constant war break outs--until finally his presidency was overthrown by the CIA, and the heroic leader was forced into exile.
September 1954. Before his journey into exile Jacobo Arbenz, the overthrown President of Guatemala, is presented to photographers stripped down to his underwear: an image seen around the world.
Arbenz had led the successful 1944 revolt against the military dictatorship, a regime that had oppressed Guatemala since colonialism. Arbenz, the son of Swiss immigrants, was celebrated as a national hero. Elected President in 1950, Arbenz was not a member of any party - he didn't issue any manifestos. But he began to fulfill his promises - farmers got their own land. "The first act of justice since colonial times," said Arbenz.
In the early 1950s, with the Cold War intensifying, then Vice President Richard Nixon said, "Arbenz is not a Guatemalan President." Nixon called him "a foreigner, manipulated by foreign powers." The young President of Guatemala was soon overthrown, declared a traitor, and chased out of the country.
The white hero, in whom the country had placed such high hopes, had been seduced; at least that was the official version. He had been betrayed by foreign powers, by Indians, by a woman. He was not a man, not a President. The religious discord was settled, the old power structures were reestablished, and civil war raged across the country for over 40 years.
"Andreas Hoessli captures the essence of a country, Guatemala, that has had its heart torn asunder and its soul obliterated. He has related the story of a harrowing tragedy that is, at its core, about bananas, but whose consequences defy the imagination ... His sensitive portrait of the Guatemalan national reform leader, Jacobo Arbenz, is an extraordinary work of art. And yet, through the magic alchemy of film, he has turned one of the most tawdry and shameful episodes in American foreign policy into an extraordinary tribute to the endurance of Guatemala."
Stephen Schlesinger, Director, World Policy Institute, and author of "Bitter Fruit"
I think, if one accepts that history is always a look back in time, that the story doesn't exist history is an infinite number of events, facts, emotions and when those who were involved talk about history, they talk retrospectively; history means assimilation, making additions, reinvention, new blueprints. If one accepts this, then we have to search for new forms. Chronology and facts suggest that a particular history «existed». If one claims to write «objective» history, chonology being the format, then it doesn't account for the fact that it is always an interpretation of history. Especially because, and this is perhaps the connection to Jacobo Arbenz, and why the narrative style seemed so appropriate, this story has been taken apart by current historians, split into a number of legends and projections. That's what I wanted to explore. I wanted to make a film which asked the question: what ist history, how do we look at history, what influences history, who «makes» history?