A day after what would have been Daniel Bensaïd's 69th birthday, we publish this interview with Chilean director Carmen Castillo, whose film We Are Alive draws continuities from his writing and activism to contemporary struggle across two continents. Here she recounts her meetings with Bensaïd as a young activist and her experience making the film.
Daniel Bensaïd in 2008.
Carmen Castillo was born in Chile, and worked for the Allende government before entering the clandestine resistance together with her partner Miguel Enriquez after the Pinochet coup of 11 September 1973. Arrested and then expelled from her homeland (after an international campaign for her release), she recounted her tragic history in two books and then her 2007 film Calle Santa Fe.
The director continues to be haunted by a number of questions. How can we pass on the memory of the defeated without suffocating it with nostalgia or bitterness? What can we do today to keep loyal to the ideas of friends, loved ones and comrades who are no longer of this world – a world that they were so passionate about changing? How can we hope, now that we know that nothing is written in advance (as some of us used to believe)?
Castillo’s next film, We Are Alive, comes to French cinemas on 29 April. Making use of the thought of philosopher Daniel Bensaïd, Castillo portrays the daily struggles of all those across two continents who throw themselves into the ‘joyous passion’ of struggle – despite everything, and however ignored they are by the big media cartels.
To review the memoir of an activist who lived well to the left of official Communism is usually to begin with an apology for its subject's obscurity, and for the difficulty of explaining to the average reader the weight given in the text to storms in teacups and brawls in backstreets. All the more so when the activist concerned was a leading member of an organization usually (though in this case imprecisely) referred to as Trotskyist.
John McIlroy has reviewed Daniel Bensaïd's An Impatient Life in October's Capital & Class, tracing Bensaïd's narration of the political landscape through which he lived; notably the turbulent events of 1968, and the defeats in Latin America, about which McIlroy is particularly effusive. He writes:
'An Impatient Life mingles autobiography with meditations on politics, philosophy and history. The thematic thread is Bensaïd’s induction into ‘a hasty Leninism’ in the 1960s and 1970s, when ‘history was breathing down our necks’; and his incomplete apprenticeship in patience and a more measured, questioning, strategic approach. He writes evocatively of his origins and lifelong dedication to the oppressed, underlining how intellectual engagement is rooted in identity, emotion and morality: