The Official Story Review
Alicia, played by Norma Aleandro, lives a comfortable life as a high school teacher and the wife of an Argentinean government official. All is well until an old friend, Ana (Chunchuna Villafane) visits. While reminiscing Ana suddenly breaks down and tells Alicia about her rape and torture at the hands of the secret police who were looking for her husband, a suspected 'subversive'. Similar to Pinochet's Chile, the Argentinean secret police routinely imprisoned and tortured anyone that they suspected of not fitting in to their ideology. Many of these people became 'Los Desaparecidos' (the disappeared) and were never seen again. Later, when her husband is evasive about the origin of Gaby, their five year old adopted daughter, Alicia suspects that she may have been stolen from one of those victims.
Based on a true account, The Official Story is a slow burning movie that builds to a powerful climax. It's an emotionally involving film that is carefully paced without any wasted screen time. The acting by all is splendid throughout. When you see people onscreen that can genuinely emote like this, people that can genuinely act, it makes a mockery of the craft to call most Hollywood stars 'actors'. It really is. Aleandro's portrayal of a woman whose eyes have been opened to the dark secrets of Argentina's 'dirty war' is compelling and flawless. Her quiet desperation is palpable as the truth threatens to destroy her family. Her character changes and develops in a logical and meaningful way as events unfold. In a pivotal scene early on she gets angry when a student questions the version of History that she teaches, and she reports his disobedience to the principal's office. A more open-minded teacher intercepts the report and returns it to her, telling her it may have serious ramifications for the student and his family. Alicia realises that it is she that is at fault, her conformity and acquiescence is what the dictatorship thrives on. Like the well-to-do middle classes in Nazi Germany that turned a blind eye to the Holocaust, Alicia and her fellow suburbanites have ignored the atrocities committed by the Junta. In a supporting role, Chunchuna Villafane as Ana is stunning. Her first scene is a cracker where she bursts the bubble of phoney camaraderie at a social function, and later when she confesses to Alicia the truth about why she left home, her performance is heart wrenching and utterly convincing. Hector Alteiro playing Alicia's husband also gives a riveting performance as a man losing control of everything he holds dear. He is a brooding presence throughout the film. A man whose life is unravelling as the past catches up with him. Writer and director Luis Puenzo tells the story in a simple, well edited fashion that subtly builds up the tension to a point where it must be released, and when the pay off comes it is both satisfying and necessary. The Official Story is one of these films that comes along all too rarely that holds a mirror up to human nature, showing the best and worst that humans are capable off. What makes this film a little different to most films set in a dictatorship is that everything happens in a fairly modern and affluent middle class environment. It may be South America but the film feels Western European. There is no war zone or ghetto fight for survival here. This time it's civil servants and doctors and teachers with cars, nice clothes, nice houses, who's lives are corrupted and destroyed by a secret and brutal regime.