ACADEMY AWARD WINNER: BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
An Argentine mother gradually realizes that the daughter she adopted may be the kidnapped child of a murdered political prisoner. [ The Official Story credits: Dir: Luis Puenzo/ Norma Aleandro, Hector Alterio, Analia Castro/ 110 min/ Drama, Foreign Language/ Argentina/ In Spanish with English subtitles/ Democide]
During Argentina’s “Dirty War” (1976–1983), its government is estimated to have quietly murdered more than eleven thousand people in an attempt to eliminate opposition to its authoritarian rule. Of course, at the time the Argentine government officially denied any knowledge of the murders, and most of its citizens were ready to believe the denial. What makes this film particularly powerful is the way it educates the viewer about all this—through the gradual transformation of its main character from a naive middle-class believer of the “official story” to one of the few who know the full extent of what’s actually been going on. As she “grows” she pulls the viewer along with her.
At first, this Argentine mother knows almost nothing of the atrocities committed by her government. Like most people, she assumes that she lives in a just society. She assumes that those who have been arrested have been arrested for a good reason, and that they have been treated fairly. Then one day a close friend tells her that she was one of those arrested, that she was innocent of any real crime, and that she was tortured, brutalized, and raped. Out of shame and fear she had never told anyone. She also tells her that this has happened to many people, and that the children of those who were killed were given away to unknown strangers.
Suddenly the mother begins to wonder if her own adopted daughter could be one of those so taken, and with a little work she finds out that indeed her daughter is the child of executed prisoners. She learns as well that the oft-denied rumors of government atrocities are all true. These revelations transform her.
Before, in her job as a high-school history teacher, she had taught only from the officially sanctioned texts and had discouraged dissent. Now she gives the highest grade in the class to a student whom she had earlier chastised for his incendiary comments about government abuse of power. It’s an act of courage on her part, and it clearly won’t be her last.
All this is told in a subtle, natural style, in which significant events occur without being musically underscored or overdramatized. For instance, in the background of one scene, an old man protesting some injustice is quietly dragged away and shut up. It’s something that others take little note of, as though it were a routine occurrence. Given the American context of Waco, Ruby Ridge, etc., this odd sense of private terror amidst public normalcy seems credible.
Norma Aleandro gives an absolutely first-rate performance in the leading role, imbuing her character with an endearing, subtle strength, as though animated by a quiet sense of justice. On the downside, there is a degree of populist class conflict between rich (bad) and poor (good) that assumes that all wealth is ill-gotten, and the first part of the film is slightly slow-moving; but these are small flaws in the context of this generally powerful and engaging experience. The Official Story won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
“From the legacy of anguish left by Argentina’s military juntas, Luis Puenzo has created a glowing film. Cogently written and beautifully acted…”
–New York Times
“The Official Story is a thought-provoking, indirect yet resolute approach to the greatest Argentine tragedy of the century: the degeneration into secret genocide of the so-called ‘dirty war’ against terrorism in the mid-and late-’70s.”
“Horror seeps into the elegantly persuasive and haunting Argentine film The Official Story in the most unexpected fashion.”
–Los Angeles Times