Monday, July 27, 2020

The Official Story

Politics has been a powerful motivator in the history of film. Think of the famed Odessa Steps sequence in Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) where montage and historical disquisition become interchangeable. It’s as if film got its legs from the dialectics of revolution and in the case of Luis Puenzo’s The Official Story (1985), repression. Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966) was famous for cinema verité in which non-actors played the central roles. "The medium is the message," as Marshall McCluhan said. In The Official Story, the narrative unfolds in a far subtler and in some ways more troubling way. The movie is about the awakening of political consciousness in a school teacher, Alicia Ibanez (Norma Aleandro). “Understanding history is a preparation for understanding the world,” she tells her students and when one cries out “history is written by murderers,” her first reaction is to silence the outburst. The plot centers around the fifth birthday of Alicia's adopted daughter Gaby (Analia Castro). The child had been born in l978 in the middle of the dictatorship famous for kidnapping and murdering its opponents, “the desaparecidos” or disappeared ones, as they were called. Protestors are filling the streets chanting “return all children born in captivity to their legitimate families.” When, an old friend Ana (Chunchuna Villafane) returns from Europe and starts to narrate how she was interrogated and tortured by the junta, Alicia is quizzical and annoyed. However, Alicia's world is unraveling on both an individual and social basis (the action takes place in the last year of the military dictatorship). Argentina is the home of a vibrant psychoanalytic community and Alicia's revelations including one that comes out in confession have the quality of therapeutic insights. One can't help thinking that the film's style owes something to an understanding of subliminal thought processes. The Official Story shatters appearances by bringing forth secrets that its central figure at first doesn’t want to face. Alicia’s husband Roberto (Hector Alterio), an upper class government functionary, refuses to answer any of her questions. “I don’t know who Gaby is; it’s as if nothing is real,” Alicia finally admits. Spoiler alert: the film like Greek tragedy builds to an inexorable climax in which Alicia is forced to come to terms with the fact that Gaby is "a missing mother's child." 35 years later in the era of "fake news," The Official Story remains both stylistically innovative and politically apropos.

Read "An Incident of Defenestration" by Francis Levy, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

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