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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
The Official Story
Directed by Luis Puenzo
WinStar 11/95 DVD/VHS Feature Film
During the mid and late 1970s, Argentina's right-wing military regime conducted an indiscriminate anti-subversion campaign against its own citizens. Thousands of suspected enemies of the state were taken to clandestine prisons where they were tortured and then murdered. Families were split asunder, and relatives of those who "disappeared" were left in the dark as to whether their loved ones were alive or dead.
In 1984, Jacobo Timerman, an activist Jewish newspaper publisher who was incarcerated in Argentina from 1977 to 1979, returned to his homeland with many questions about the past. Timerman wrote about that time: "How was it possible that children were tortured in front of their parents? How was it possible that women were raped in front of their husbands? Why were there soldiers in Argentina who kicked pregnant women to death? Why were your children murdered or handed over to strange families?"
In The Official Story, screenplay writers Luis Puenzo and Aida Bortnik consider some of the same questions especially the last one concerning the fate of children who were taken from their parents and given to childless families of friends of the military regime. What kind of political zealots would use children as secret booty in a war against left-wing terrorists? Why didn't more Argentinean citizens protest against the human rights violations of the late 1970s? These subjects are covered in this searing, engaging, and vibrantly moral film.
Alicia (Norma Aleandro) and Roberto (Hector Alterio) are a well-to-do couple who live with their adopted daughter Gaby (Analia Castro) in Buenos Aires. The year is 1983. She teaches history in a private boys' school, and he is a rich and powerful businessman with connections in the military government.
Their prosperous life is upset when Ana (Chunchuna Villafane), a long-time friend of Alicia's, returns from exile in Europe. During an evening together, she reveals that she was taken from her home years ago and tortured by paramilitary forces investigating her involvement with a left-wing lover. Even more shattering, Ana tells how children of Argentineans murdered during the counterinsurgency campaign were given to childless military and police officers. It slowly dawns on Alicia that Gaby may have been such a child.
When she questions Roberto about their daughter's origins, he evades her; a priest who was with him the day of the adoption advises Alicia not to concern herself with this matter. Although she loves her daughter more than her own life, this teacher who has stayed above politics is determined to discover the truth about Gaby. In light of her quest, Alicia is struck by the poignancy of the mothers and grandmothers in the Plaza de Mayo who demonstrate daily for the return of their missing children.
The Official Story is a wrenching and painful drama that crystallizes the horror and the obscenity of political activities that annihilate family solidarity in the name of ideology. Alicia's investigation puts her in contact with Sara (Chela Ruiz), a woman whose daughter and son-in-law disappeared along with their child. Is this woman Gaby's grandmother? Alicia, deeply moved by Sara's anguish and powerlessness, has a final confrontation with her husband, whose own world is collapsing because of a change of power in the government.
The DVD release of this unforgettable movie includes a full list of its awards, including the Best Actress Award at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival for Norma Aleandro's performance as Alicia. In a very emotionally affecting way, she conveys one woman's journey toward moral responsibility and identification with those violated by Roberto's circle of associates. The Official Story packs a shattering visceral punch.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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