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La Historia Oficial -- The Official Story

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.


Comments (6)

tourmama:

Sandra - thanks so much for this post. I will be making my first visit to Argentina next month, and had read a little about Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo, so appreciate learning more - and will be renting this film, for sure. With your permission, I would like to share the post with the 30 or so members of the singing group with whom I will be traveling on our performance tour, as I think many of them may be interested in learning more about this part of Argentina's past.

If you don't mind my passing along the link to your blog, could you let me know? My email address is in my Slow Travel profile.

Many thanks,

Judy

Sandra:

Judy, feel free to pass on the link -- thanks for taking the time to comment.

Another film on a related subject -- the Dirty War and the disappeared -- which I thought was very good, was Imagining Argentina.

Kim:

You know, there's so much history I do not know, on this side of the Atlantic (though I keep learning more across the pond). I'm going to have to check for this on netflix. Subtitled, not dubbed?

Sandra:

Kim, the version I received from Zip was subtitled (thankfully; I hate dubbed) But I think I read somewhere that dubbed versions were also available; maybe it was version for sale on Amazon. Ick. Dubbed never works.

Thanks for reminding us about this film! I was just reading about Maria Eugenia Sampallo and that whole period of Argentine history is just really sad.

Sandra:

Chiocciola, Maria Sampallo must be incredibly brave -- can you imagine having the courage to confront your life, your family, everything you thought you knew about yourself, and to confront such a horrific past.

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