In the 1970s, Argentina entered “The Dirty War” phase of its history; from 1976-1983 (roughly), the junta government arrested, tortured and disappeared (what a terrifying verb) thousands of citizens to quell descent among the populace (Source: Wikipedia; let’s hope this one is correct).
“The Official Story,” Luis Puenzo’s 1985 film that won a Best Foreign Language Oscar, picks up at the tail end of the war, in 1983, just as the power structure began to crumble. But wisely, Puenzo and fellow screenwriter Ada Bortnik chose to focus on someone on the periphery.
That person is Alicia (Norma Aleandro), a history professor at a high school and wife of a government official, Roberto (Hctor Alterio). She leads a comfortable existence, a good job and freedom. She also has an adopted daughter, Gaby (Analia Castro), courtesy of her husband’s connections; the official story is that the mother didn’t want the baby, Roberto paid for their daughter, and their family became complete.
Everything’s going great, until an old friend, Ana (Chunchuna Villafae), returns from a seven year self-imposed exile. After a few too many drinks (and in what must be one of the most brutal and intimate scenes ever filmed), Ana recounts her 36 days of torture and rape to her friend who knew nothing about it. Once Ana mentions that children born in captivity were taken from their mothers and given away, Alicia goes on the defensive but that statement starts to rip into her willful blindness.
Alicia has been trained her entire life to look the other way, but Ana’s accusation, and her five-years-late doubts about Gaby’s parentage won’t go away, so she begins to look deeper into her life. She recklessly peels away the faade, not even thinking about what she’ll do if she finds anything. Like her passionate and idealistic students, she’s trying to find the truth behind the official story, the truth that will save her soul.
It’s a brutal story, and Peunzo ups the ante with his brutal storytelling, a camera that locks in tight on its subjects and refuses to look away from their suffering. Alicia’s journey is one that Peunzo asks all the world to go on, to keep digging for painful answers, no matter the cost.
As Alicia says to her students, history is the memory of the people, and Peunzo convincingly argues that disappearing people need a voice more than their victors, that every horror is just as important as the victories for citizens of Argentina and citizens of the world. Those people deserve to be remembered; see “The Official Story,” and you will.
“The Official Story” (1985)
Directed by Luis Puenzo
Written by Luis Puenzo and Ada Bortnik
Starring: Hctor Alterio (Roberto)
Norma Aleandro (Alicia)
Chunchuna Villafae (Ana)