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1-World Festival of Foreign Films

The Official Story
(La Historia Oficial)
Argentina - 1985
Directed by Luis Puenzo

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997

Integrating the uncertainty sweeping Argentina, in the early 1980s, with one woman's realisation of her unknowing complicity in this reign of terror, The Official Story is a deeply moving debut. In the years following the Falklands War the military junta, then in power, ripped Argentina The Official Storyapart with its death throes. No one escaped the touch of this regime, though some fared better than others (the most unlucky ended up as desaparecidos, victims taken by the government and never returned). Alicia (Norma Aleandro) and her husband Roberto (Héctor Alterio) are fortunate, remaining safe and wealthy through Roberto's high-level contacts. They have a daughter, Gaby (Analia Castro), upon whom love and attention is lavished, despite the fact that she's adopted. An old friend of Alicia's, Ana (Chunchuna Villafane), has recently returned to Argentina after spending many years in exile, in Europe. Alicia is overjoyed to see her and catch up on old news, yet she's always been puzzled over why Ana left without saying goodbye. In a painfully emotional session Ana reveals that she was taken away and tortured for over a month, after which she had to depart immediately.

A fragment of information that Ana reveals worms its way into Alicia's subconscious and torments her; among the prisoners were many pregnant women, some of whom had their babies taken away and given to high ranking government families. Since Gaby is now five years old and Alicia has no idea where she came from, Roberto organised the adoption, this frightful possibility refuses to disappear. A further area of upset concerns Alicia's university class, where she teaches history. The students are routinely disbelieving of written records, contesting that history is written by assassins (such as the military) and wholly untrustworthy. To a bourgeois and protected Alicia these actions are incomprehensible. However, caught between her students and Ana, Alicia is trapped by the pincers of truth and unable to escape. Turning detective she embarks on a hunt to find Gaby's real mother, or to at least determine what happened to her. Since Roberto is aggressively evasive, this involves tracking down scraps of hospital records and witnesses to Gaby's birth.

In her increasingly obsessed and desperate search, Alicia meets Sara (Chela Ruiz), who is a member of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. This is a large group of women who are demanding to know what has happened to their children, after they were grabbed by the military. Misunderstanding the situation, assuming that Alicia is looking for her daughter, Sara helps by showing her numerous albums of the vanished and tracking down information on Gaby's birth. While this is occurring hints of Roberto's connections with the military briefly come into view, such as when Alicia visits his offices and (possibly) sees a man being garroted. He is under immense pressure (as the junta disintegrates) and always reacts badly when Alicia enquires into Gaby's parentage. Inevitably Sara discovers the existence of Gaby and, in a strange twist of fate, notices a strong resemblance between Gaby and her own long-lost daughter.

A thoroughly humanistic tale, which only tangentially makes political points, the power of The Official Story arises from its basis in reality. Thousands of people really were murdered in Argentina and although this movie is a piece of fiction, it represents a situation which is almost horrific beyond belief. The acting is generally excellent, illustrating the fluidity of the times and the difficulties facing each character, yet never descending into melodrama. Aleandro is superb as a typical middle-class woman who finds that her viewpoint is based upon fallacies and becomes compelled to force a situation which she knows will be destructive. To uncover the fate of Gaby's mother serves no solid purpose yet Alicia must do this, for peace of mind. The cumulative impact of small details and incidents is devastating, slowly building to a climax and still ending in ambiguity, such is the control of the script. However, The Official Story is so good that it introduces far more questions than it can hope to answer (some of which simply can't be solved), leaving us desperate for further information (see Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo for further insights).

Runtime:  112 minutes

Note:  The Official Story won the Oscar in 1986 for Best Foreign Language Film, the Interfilm Award - Otto Dibelius Film Award from the Berlin International Film Festival, a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film (1986) and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Foreign Language Film (1985).  Norma Aleandro won the Best Actress Award from the Cannes Film Festival and the New York Film Critics Circle (1985).

Guest Comments

From:  "Melisa"

"We are watching it in Spanish class. It is a pretty good movie."

From:  "anonymous"

"I want to give a shout out to all my compadres in Mr Butler's Spanish Class."

From:  "?"

"Great job on THE OFFICIAL STORY","I LOVED how the website thoroughly describes THE OFFICIAL STORY. It helped me out a lot when I was writing my paper on it for Spanish. Thanks!!! You were the only site I found that wrote about this great movie!"

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