The Official Story (1985)

“Literature and History always meet.”

‘The Official Story’, directed by Luis Puenzo in 1985, is an Argentine domestic drama set during the country’s last military dictatorship. Norma Aleandro plays Alicia, a teacher and the wife of a government agent Roberto, played by Héctor Alterio. They live in a upper middle class bubble, insulated from the forced ‘disappearances’ that occurred at the time. The couple have an adopted child, Gaby, who may or may not be the orphan of one of the ‘desaparecidos’. On her fifth birthday, Norma decides she needs to know and pressures Roberto for an answer, but her husband is deeply immersed in the complexities of his job and determined to avoid the question. It’s a film in which a domestic drama is the medium for telling a story about a national issue. The perspective of the film is almost entirely within this bubble of normality, and the infringement into it feels like an abhorrent incursion.  The brutal ending, in which Norma conceals her daughter from Roberto causing him to assault her in an act that symbolically recreates a disappearance, is a concise and economical summation of the emotional and societal trauma that was occurring in the country, made all the more powerful by the small, intimate scale of the scene. It’s a smart film that tells an important story, but does so in a way that is perfectly tuned to an audience in a country other than Argentina. The idea of living in a bubble and not being aware of the political cruelties that occur in other places and to other people seems somehow pertinent today.

Would I recommend it? Yes – I’d watch it with ‘Nostalgia for the Light’, another film about disappearances, this time in Chile, but told in a documentary.

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