The Official Story (1985) / Drama
aka La Historia Oficial
aka The Official History
aka The Official Version
MPAA Rated: R for language and some violence
Running time: 112 min.
Cast: Norma Aleandro, Hector Alterio, Chela Ruiz, Chunchuna Villafane, Hugo Arana
Director: Luis Puenzo
Screenplay: Aida Bortnik, Luis Puenzo
Review published December 26, 2007
I suppose it's with some irony that 1985's Best Foreign Language Oscar-winner, The Official Story, which tells of some of the continuing social problems incurred in the aftermath of the systematic torture and killings of those suspected of being terrorists in 1970s Argentina (aka "The Dirty War"), is actually a work of fiction. Still, while the characters at the heart of the film aren't based on actual people, their back story is still in large part based on fact. Thousands were rounded up, and later disposed into unmarked graves, leaving their loved ones perpetually searching for clues as to their whereabouts, not knowing if they were alive, dead, or even if their disappearance were completely disconnected with the whole debacle.
Norma Aleandro (Son of the Bride, Cousins) stars as Alicia, a history teacher and wife of a well-to-do businessman, Roberto (Alterio, Burnt Money). The marriage isn't the best, but they do take pride in raising their young daughter Gaby the best they can, never telling her or anyone else that she is actually adopted. The one thing that soon begins to trouble Alicia is, as news of the atrocities committed splash into the streets in the forms of protest, she wonders if Gaby's parents might be alive, or if they were among the missing dispatched by the previous regime. Roberto urges her to drop the matter, but seems to know more than he's letting on, which only adds fuel to the fire burning within Alicia to get to the heart of what really happened.
Interesting subtexts abound, not the least of which happens to be the shady nature of what we call history itself. Alicia's students are increasingly undermining her authority as a teacher by claiming that their texts are full of lies and half-truths, as the control of information has always been done by the government that controls their approval, covering for those who often murdered those that would release information that would be damaging if public knowledge were to suspect. Challenging arguments pervade this thoughtful story, as we watch Alicia continue to become more and more distraught at the facts that she uncovers, wondering if whether it might actually be, as Roberto insists, best that she not know the full story. Knowing everything probably won't change the lives of anyone involved, but yet, the need to know cannot be sated until all of the facts are discovered.
Also troubling is the fact that Roberto may have been somehow responsible for not only covering up for the government in their pursuit of suspected terrorists, but may have also been the one to rat out their friends to them. In addition, the wealth they have amassed could very well have been due to his complicity in the affair of rooting these people out, seizing financial opportunities that arose through his questionably unethical dealings. One can read the character of Alicia as allegorical to the plight of the nation as a whole, having to decide on whether it is best for national unity to look ignore the events of the past for the prosperity of the present, or to confront the fact that who they are today is a direct result of the heinous sins committed by previous political regimes.
Shot with somber realism, Puenzo's (Old Gringo, La Peste) delivery is refreshing in that it doesn't go for the heartstrings, and yet the story is still quite emotionally compelling. Superb acting by all involved, especially by Aleandro and Atlerio, deliver the gripping realism that allows us to believe that one woman would sacrifice all she is and has ever been just to find out the truth about how she became it.
©2007 Vince Leo