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In the powerful 1985 film The Official Story, Director Luis Puenzo tells the
story of a teacher's awakening to conscience at the end of Argentina's
"Dirty War" of the late 70s and early 80s. As in Pinochet's Chile, the
military secret police sought to consolidate their power by routinely
torturing and murdering students, political activists, opponents of the
regime, and even expectant mothers. Many ended up as desaparecidos, people
taken by the government and not returned. The film is about one mother's
search for the truth about her adopted daughter and her discovery brings
harsh political reality very close to home.
In The Official Story, Alicia (Norma Aleandro) lives a comfortable middle class life. She teaches History to high school students and enjoys a family that includes her well-to-do husband Roberto (Hector Alterio) and 5-year old adopted daughter Gaby (Analia Castro). Not used to asking questions, she believes whatever she has read in history books and is confused when one of her students tells her that "history is written by assassins." She sees the demonstrations of the "Mothers of Plaza de Mayo", a group seeking information about missing family members but remains uninvolved. When her friend Ana (Chunchuna Villafane) visits after living in exile for many years, however, she learns, in an intensely emotional scene, that Ana had been imprisoned and tortured by the police trying to locate her husband, a suspected "subversive".
Ana tells Alicia that many others had "disappeared" and that babies had been taken from their mothers and given to childless friends of the junta. Alicia begins to wonder if her own child was the daughter of a political victim and questions her husband but when he is evasive, she suspects that he may be hiding a dark secret. Although fearful at the prospect of losing Gaby, Alicia is determined to find out about her daughter's past and begins to search hospital records and government archives. Ultimately, she must confront her own responsibility in a climax of shattering force that underscores the tragedy of political ideologues who would rather destroy family solidarity than risk losing power.
I cry each time I watch this film. (The scene with Norma Aleandro and the baby clothes) Always gets me. An American film-maker would have made a film about one of the "desaparecidos" (disappeared ones) - but Puenzo is too sharp for that - by making a film about one of the quietly complicit, he has indicted all of us who are aware that things aren't quite right in the world, but choose to ignore the fact...and do nothing. Devastating, political and yet personal. My all-time favorite film.
I saw this movie in my first-year Spanish class. I love all kinds of movies, both international and domestic. This is by far one of the best movies I have seen in the international field with particular focus on the character development of one woman who seems to have everything. In coming to terms with the truth of her lifestyle and the high price others have paid for her comfort, she becomes a heroine who must give up almost everything she has loved and felt identified who she is. This movie is both heartbreaking and reassuring for its audience. I highly recommend it as a thoughtful depiction of how ignoring politics can imply inadvertently becoming an accomplice.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Unfortunately, few people outside of Argentina remember the bad old
days of the late 1970s and early 80s and Argentina's military junta.
During its reign, literally thousands of people just
"disappeared"--never to be seen again. Any possible dissent was wiped
out through torture, intimidation and murder. It was this climate of
repression and ultra-nationalistic rhetoric that the fatal invasion of
the Falklands was staged--ultimately leading to the ruin and collapse
of the Argentinian government.
Now that I've spouted out all that stuff about the historical context for the movie, let's get to the film itself. The story begins with a rich and well-connected family (just how well-connected you find out much later in the story). They are about to celebrate the 5th birthday of their adopted daughter. However, unconfirmed stories about where many of these adopted babies came from begin to fall on the ears of our heroine. Alicia (Norma Aleandro) is horrified to hear that many adopted babies are probably those taken from these political prisoners that vanished while in police custody. When she brings these concerns to her husband, he ignores her and changes the subject--something he did repeatedly throughout the movie. However, she can't live a lie and MUST find out from where they adopted their daughter.
The acting is superb throughout the film as is the pacing--as she goes from a strict conformist to ultimately demanding to know more. The progression is NOT abrupt and it makes sense how it evolves thanks to excellent writing. Also, Ms. Aleandro's acting (as well as that of the supporting actors and actresses) is wonderful--so much that you feel yourself feeling what they are trying to portray. As a result, this movie will definitely get the tears flowing. Also, the final confrontation with her husband, though important, is a bit tough to watch (be forewarned).
FYI--this movie is rated R because of the intensity of the subject matter and some pretty horrible domestic violence towards the end of the movie. The movie should be okay for most teenagers to view.
Its hard to convey just how moving this movie is. Its absolutely haunting, I thought about this flick for days afterwards. I don't think it represents the experiences of many Argentines during the era of the juntas, but it clearly shows how awful those times were and why Argentines never want to return to that situation again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I believe the filmmaker's purpose was to charge the viewer to ask the
following questions: How far will I go in obtaining the truth of the
world I live in for myself? Am I willing to make sacrifices and take
risks in obtaining the truth? And, am I willing to suffer the
opposition that will attempt to silence me in my journey? These
questions are answered while the viewer lives vicariously through
Alicia's own journey for the truth. Although the ending is ambiguous
and the viewer never finds out whether Alicia obtains the truth of her
daughter, it seemed to me implicit that she does. I believe that if the
director had chosen (which thankfully he didn't) to extend the film a
little longer, the viewer would have seen that Alicia consents in
giving her daughter back to the elderly woman. I have four reasons for
this, all which support the questions above.
1). Alicia is the type of woman who wants nothing but the truth and that anything less would torment her mind with guilt. She expresses this guilt to her priest, telling him that she doesn't deserve her daughter if the adoption isn't legal. The lighting during this sequence is dark and dismala directing choice that reflects the inner-darkness Alicia is experiencing.
2). It is implied through her conversation with the elderly woman that despite how much she loves her daughter, and, that to lose her would be a painful sacrifice, she would still stand for the truth and do what is right. And what is right the right choice? For Alicia, it is to give her daughter back to the rightful and secondary parent.
3). Her tenacity to exhaust her abusive husband in telling her the truth, despite getting beaten by him, demonstrates her willingness to suffer all types affliction in order to arrive at the truth. There is a particular shot that demonstrates even the husband's belief that the right thing to do is to give the daughter back. At the end of the film, after the husband has beaten up Alicia and is listening to his daughter on the phone, the camera begins to slowly dolly towards his face. The shot persists for a good minute or so, capturing a single tear falling from his cheek. This suggested to me that despite the husbands love for his daughter, he was beginning to feel that it wasn't right for them to keep their daughter after all.
4). After her husband storms out of the house refusing to listen to her and the elderly woman's case, the elderly woman asks Alicia, "Shall I expect a call from you tomorrow or shall I call?" The use of script development here through Alicia's willingness to initiate the phone call spoke volumes in suggesting that she truly believes her daughter is not lawfully hers. If she had said, "You call," it would have suggested that she was not only reluctant but also skeptical whether this woman's case was plausible.
Even the title of the film, an element of production design, seemed to suggest the quest for what is true. Given the Spanish rendering, "La Historia Oficial," which in English is interpreted, "The Official History," there is an interesting contrast shown between the words of the English rendering, "The Official Story," and its original title in Spanish. The difference is in the words "history" and "story". The word history seems to suggest factsthe truth of what really happened. On the other hand, the word story seems to suggest fablesthe lies used to cover up the truth. Either way you look at it, Alicia's search for the official history (truth) or the official story (lie) regarding her daughter works as a powerful way in conveying what the central theme of the film iswhat is the truth and what are the lies.
Even after knowing what happened in Argentina, I have to say that this
was shocking. I knew Norma Aleandro is a very good actress. I went to
theater and saw her interpreting Maria Callas in "Master Class". But it
not enough warning. Watching this movie was a emotional taste of that
I knew how it was, now I can begin to imagine how it must have
The song "En el pais de no me acuerdo" ("In the country of I-don't-remember"), is especially well suited.
La Historia Oficial is an excellent movie. It is also the testimony of the suffering of the Argentinian people during the military dictatorship. But those who are not from Argentina, like myself, can very well be touched by this movie. I was observing the cruelty of the government and thought "my God, totalitarism is always the same, and no matter if the violation of human rights occurs in Argentina under the military regime, in Cuba under the Castro dictatorship, in Chile under Pinochet, in Europe during Hitler, people suffer the same and the least we can do is to feel compassion". A good lesson from this movie, generation after generation we shouldn't forget the victims. They deserve justice.
La Historia Official is a well-made film about awakening from passive
complicity in evil, in this case, forced adoption. The Grandmothers of
the Plaza de Mayo were and are an inspiration to those who struggle to
uncover and resist abuses in adoption practices, be they the enslaved
Irish women of the Magdalen laundries or the many indigenous peoples
who had children forcibly removed from homes to be adopted by whites.
Most of adoption does not involve abduction, but to turn a blind eye to
the fact that it does exist, is to be passively complicit, as was the
protagonist in this film.
The scene in which the teacher realizes that tremendous evil has indeed been perpetrated, and that she may very well be the beneficiary of such evil, is staggering. Norma Aleandro is a talented enough actress that we believe her initial rejection of this revelation, and her gradual evolution from passive cohort to courageous seeker of the truth.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Directed by Luis Puenzo, The Official Story was truly an eye opening
film in my view. Taking place shortly after the 1976 coup d'etat in
Argentina, this film mainly follows the life of Alicia, Roberto, and
their adopted child Gaby. Alicia, who is a history professor, enjoys a
privileged lifestyle due to her successful husband Roberto, who is a
prominent businessman in Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, living such a
lifestyle has made Alicia somewhat ignorant in understanding the
suffering of her very own people, especially in regards to the military
take over of 1976.
Thanks to a get together with her friend Anna, Alicia is told the horrors which took place; some of which include kidnappings, rapes, and torture. In some instances, the individuals rounded up, were forced to give up their kids for adoption. Knowing that Gaby is adopted, Alicia realizes that she could have been the daughter of an individual who indeed suffered due to the unforgiving military junta of the time. Alicia soon finds herself on a quest to find the real mother of Gaby, by checking birth records of various hospitals in Buenos Aires. While doing so, she inevitably is met by Gaby's grandmother, who presents Alicia with photos of Gaby's parents who are deceased. Alicia is shocked to find this out, but in reality, Gaby's parents were only one of thousands who were inhumanely slaughtered by the military junta.
Having conferred with Gaby's grandmother, Alicia tries to introduce the lady to her husband Roberto. However, Roberto is infuriated and believes the old grandmother to be a lunatic that is a scum of society. Thankfully, Alicia shrugs this incident off, and at the end of the movie, Roberto, albeit indirectly, admits that Gaby indeed is the child of the two deceased parents in question.
Overall, The Official Story was a well-made film. It not only had elements of comedy, drama, but also gripping suspense. All these elements were presented in a fashion that is atypical of traditional Hollywood, yet very effective nonetheless.
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