Anyone interested in a political drama with a very human face may want to consider the Argentine film The Official Story. The film, which won an Academy Award in 1985 for Best Foreign Language Film, is riveting yet painful to watch because the times and the subject matter are heart-rending.
The film opens as Argentina is beginning to deal with the country's Dirty War of the 1970s and early 1980s, and with the desaparecidos, the thousands of Argentines who were abducted during the juntas' counterinsurgency campaigns. The film directors, however, narrow their focus from the broad political picture, to tell the story of one family; really, one woman, who gradually begins to understand what has been happening in her country -- and what that means to her family.
I rented the film last week after hearing news reports that illustrate how Argentina continues to deal with the fallout of that period of repression and terror, and of the human toll that included among many other horrors, the adoption of babies taken from detainees and political prisoners.
News agencies recently reported that a court in Buenos Aires sentenced the adoptive parents of a baby born to a missing political prisoner, to seven and eight years in prison for concealing the child's identity. The court also handed down a sentence of 10 years to a former army captain accused of giving the couple the baby after the real parents were abducted by security forces under the 1976-1983 regime and never reappeared. The case, launched by Maria Eugenia Sampallo Barragan, now 30, was the first time a child of a dissident who disappeared during Argentina's Dirty War took her adoptive parents to court. Thousands of dissidents vanished after being abducted by security forces, and human rights groups say more than 200 of their children were taken and given to military or politically connected families.
The fictional tale, The Official Story, deals with the same type of case. Alicia, an affluent middle-aged history teacher married to a businessman with close ties to the military government, focuses her love and attention on the couple's adopted five-year-old daughter and tries to ignore the political chaos. She, and the people in her social circle, dismiss arrests and disappearances as the proper reaction to dangerous criminals.
But, challenged by her young students and the reappearance of a long-lost friend with harrowing tales of torture and exile, Alicia begins to question the regime she has accepted. She begins to seriously question "The Official Story" of what actually happened during the Dirty War and, closer to home, and how she and her husband were so fortunate as to be able to adopt a beautiful new-born girl.
Her search for answers moves Alicia far beyond her narrow circle of acquaintances, to involve her with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who have been demanding the return of children picked up in military sweeps or born in clandestine prisons. And it raises for Alicia far more questions than she is able to, or dares to, answer.
Norma Aleandro won a Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986 for her portrayal of Alicia. Aleandro, a native of Argentina, apparently had to flee the country's military junta in the 1970s during the Dirty War. She remained in exile under the military government fell in the early 1980s.