The Judge and the General tells the story of Judge Juan Guzman, who prosecuted the first criminal cases against the general of the title, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
In Chile judges investigate as well as try cases themselves, and when Guzman was assigned to Pinochet's case by lottery, lawyers for families of the victims who were "disappeared" under Pinochet didn't hold out much hope. Guzman came from a conservative right wing family who toasted the coup that removed Socialist president Salvador Allende from power and put Pinochet in his place for the next 17 years.
The film documents the investigations, using news footage and interviews with the judge, the victims' families, lawyers in the cases, and experts. I admire the filmmakers for not having voice-over narration explaining what is going on, as this means they have to rely on editing to tell a coherent story. But in this case I wanted more details about Guzman and I wanted someone to underline for me what was extraordinary about his actions.
Guzman is a fascinating character; he's refined, dignified and soft spoken as he talks about how investigating "opened the eyes of my soul." So it's frustrating not to know more about how this came about. How does someone go from regarding complaints against Pinochet as communist propaganda to deciding what Pinochet and his secret police did is pure evil?
The film underscores the horrors of Pinochet's crimes again and again and goes scrupulously into the logistics of the investigations. This was interesting, but rather than seeing the mechanics of the investigations, I wanted to understand what drove Guzman to keep on with them when his life was being threatened and he had to travel everywhere with bodyguards.
The Judge and the General made me think about people's capacity for change. The movie shows that plenty of Chileans continued to support the Pinochet regime, human rights violations and all. And then there is Guzman, whose political views shifted based on what he saw and heard. His transformation wasn't just personal; it affected a country and gave people who had been ignored for years hope that they would finally be heard.
The Judge and the General airs August 19 at 10pm on KQED.