La Historia Oficial (The Official Story) Reviews
Pretty much all the average American knows about Argentinian politics has been sung by Madonna and Antonio Banderas. I'll confess that I don't know that much more myself, even though I've personally known a person who lived in Argentina for a few years. I do know that the word "Perón" has complicated connotations there. It isn't all musical numbers--and even in the opera (there's not enough dialogue for me to call it anything else), neither Eva nor Juan comes across purely innocent. Now, of course, Eva was long dead before the "Dirty War" of the 1970s, which led to the events of tonight's film, but it was indeed about Juan. I don't pretend to understand all of what happened, and I don't plan to do the research necessary to do so. Certainly I'm not going to do it tonight. I know the generalities of South American history of that era well enough to get the outlines, and that's enough for our purposes.
Alicia Marnet de Ibáñez (Norma Aleandro) lives a perfectly happy life in what is probably Buenos Aires. She is married to Roberto (Héctor Alterio), and they have a beautiful daughter, Gaby (Analia Castro). Gaby is adopted. Alicia's best friend is Ana (Chunchuna Villafañe), who has spent the last few years in Europe. She has finally returned, and Alicia is delighted to see her. However, Ana tells a story of torture by the government, of fleeing ahead of death. She also tells Alicia of women whose children were stolen from them and given up for adoption to couples who will not ask too many questions. Alicia realizes that she knows nothing herself of the circumstances of Gaby's birth and adoption, and it is certainly true that Roberto is on familiar terms with certain people in power. She can no longer hide in her quiet life as a history teacher; current events are becoming more important. She must decide if she wants to find the answers and what she will do with them when she does.
The Wikipedia page talks about how Alicia must make the decision about whether to give Gaby back to her birth grandmother (Chela Ruiz as Sara) or not, but it never occurred to me that such was a possibility. I suppose it's possible that it's what Sara wanted, but I'm not sure it would be best for Gaby, surely what both women want. It seems clear that Gaby is going to lose the man she's always thought of as her father no matter what. I don't know that it would be the right thing for Gaby to lose the woman she thinks is her mother. Gaby is five, and she does not yet know that she is adopted. (To be fair, at that age, I'm not sure how much you can understand what adoption is even if you are adopted.) I'm not sure she'll understand if she is suddenly taken away from the only parents she's ever known, and I like to think that her grandmother will know that. What her grandmother went through was terrible, but I don't think that gives her a right to rob Gaby.
Alicia knew, of course, that what was happening with the government was hard on some people. She herself was interrogated about Ana's ex-husband. However, Ana hadn't told her what happened when they interrogated Ana. Alicia didn't know about the torture, at least in part because she didn't want to know. The boys in her history class know more than she, somehow, possibly because they're willing to learn. Ana's description of the couples who took those babies is that they would not ask too many questions, and it is exactly right. Oh, Roberto probably knew, or knew just enough to know what he didn't want to know, but Alicia did not. What she knew was that she who could not have children now at last had a daughter, and that was all she cared about. What she was forced to learn was that you can't always close your eyes just because it seems as though you're getting what you want. Getting what you want can come with a price. You should know what you are paying, and Alicia didn't.
Colonialism has left an uneven history around the world. Some countries came out of it better than others. I can't help wondering how much of that is how long they were left alone afterward, how much or how little interference how long ago. Juan Perón studied European fascism close up, and one of the things he didn't seem to learn was that it has yet to be sustained--possibly cannot be sustained. It is also true that the CIA spent considerable time interfering with the governments of the countries to our south in that era, and that certainly didn't help matters. There were problems filming this movie, because the military dictatorship still controlled Argentina at the time. In France at the same time, they were making the film which was nominated at the same time for Best Foreign Film--[i]Three Men and a Cradle[/i]--because France was in a place where they could make wacky comedies, and Argentina was in a place where the Disappeared were still part of life. So yeah, I guess.
Beginning as a film about how teachers teach/indoctrinate the state's dominant paradigm, the film quickly shifts focus to the teacher's family life. We learn that it is likely that her daughter was procured by illegal or immoral means by her government official husband. Bourgeois versus "common man" sympathies becomes the main conflict for the family and the film. Thus, The Official Story is a heady drama, one that ultimately condemns the upper classes by revealing violence hidden beneath the veneer of respectability.
I don't think I could appreciate the film as much as a native Argentinian because of my limited knowledge of their history; I've seen Evita and paid attention during World History in high school, but that's about it, and many of the oblique references to past military leaders was lost on me.
The drama also unfolds slowly. There are long zooms and pans and numerous shots of the main character looking pensive.
Overall, I think there's a lot to like about The Official Story, but it's not for all audiences, especially my classmates who fell asleep during World History and failed to see Evita.
This Oscar winning flick is undoubtedly watchable and shouldn't be a PITA. Although it might be painful in some other parts to some.