“Why would I want to know?”
Cautiva is an extremely effective Argentinean film that focuses on the plight of the approximately 30,000 ‘Disappeared’ victims of the right-wing military junta that ruled the country between 1976-1983. These victims of the so-called Dirty War were grabbed from their homes and off the streets and simply vanished in one of several prisons. The victims were never tried or convicted of any crimes, but instead they were tortured and usually murdered in prison, or taken on Death Flights (weighted and dumped from airplanes in to the ocean). In spite of the fact that most of the victims of the Dirty War never made it out of the prisons, the few who survived tell of systematic torture and abuse. Argentina’s President Menem granted pardons to most of those guilty of the Dirty War murders, but an interesting situation arose: many pregnant women snatched by the junta gave birth in jail before being murdered. What happened to those babies? The search for the missing children of the Disappeared became pivotal to the issue of pardons for torturers. The kidnapping of the babies and children of the Disappeared was not ‘covered’ by Menem’s pardon, and so discovering the fate of these stolen children became an alternate method of uncovering and publicizing the revolting details of the military junta’s actions.
The film Cautiva looks at the fallout of the Dirty war through an inadvertent victim–Cristina Quadri (Barbara Lombardo). When the film begins, she’s the adored only child of an affluent couple–Pablo (Osvaldo Santoro, a retired Captain of the Federal Police, and his wife Adela (Silvia Bayle). While at school one day, Cristina is told that her parents were two of the Disappeared, and that the Quadris are not her real parents. A judge sends her to live with her maternal grandmother.
Cautiva really is an excellent, powerful film that handles its subject matter with sensitivity. While Cristina initially rejects the knowledge that the Quadris illegally adopted her, she gradually comes to realize the truth. The young actress who plays the part of Cristina Quadri/Sofia Lombardi plays the role with understated grace, and never milks the audience for sympathy. There’s a sort of rough justice to the fact that the Quadris lose ‘their’ stolen child and then have the gall to squawk about their rights. A few scenes indicate that Pablo still imagines that he can snap his fingers and order the killings of those he dislikes, and a confrontational scene between Cristina and the Quadris establishes their justification for their hideous actions. When everyone shies away from telling Cristina the details of her parents’ brutal deaths, she seeks answers on her own. Finally she realizes that for the past 16 years, a web of deceit has been carefully woven around her, and that she’s been robbed of her parents, her identity, and even her name. She lives in a country in which mass murderers are shielded “by laws to protect them from subsequent democratic governments.”
Since the film begins with a scene of Kissinger in Argentina at the 1978 World Cup as a guest of General Videla, we should get the idea that military torturers have friends in high places. In fact the largest torture center in Argentina–the ESMA was just 1000 meters away from the stadium. In Spanish with subtitles, Cautiva is directed by Gaston Biraben.