“By preaching destabilization, they encourage subversive ideas.”
The film The Official Story wraps the politics of government-supported torture and the slaughter of thousands of Argentinians around the awakening of the social conscience of one woman. Alicia (Norma Aleandro) is a married, affluent history teacher who works in a boys’ school in Buenos Aires. She and her prominent husband, Roberto (Hector Alterio) have an adopted child, Gaby. When Alicia attends a reunion of school friends, she’s delighted to see Ana (Chunchuna Villafane)–a woman who abruptly left the country seven years earlier. The atmosphere at the reunion becomes a bit tense when one woman breezily mentions that someone they all knew only has one child left. When asked what happened to the other children, the woman says–“they were all subversives.” While everyone else seems to find this a perfectly reasonable explanation, Alicia is troubled, but there’s more troubling information in store.
Ana reveals to Alicia that she left Argentina after being horribly tortured by military government officials who were trying to extract information about a man she once knew. Ana was lucky to survive, but she tells Alicia that there were many who didn’t–including women who gave birth inside jail and had their babies stolen from them and given to the families of the privileged elite. While Alicia–who’s only been vaguely aware of past social unrest–would like to reject the horrific information of her friend’s treatment, prompted by her conscience she begins to question if her adopted daughter is a child of the Disappeared Ones (Los Desaparecidos).
Alicia’s brutish husband (who’s outraged Ana is back in Argentina) and frivolous friends believe that torture and disappearances only happen to those who “deserve” it in some fashion. It takes exposure to the brutalities conducted by the state to shake Alicia out of her nice, sanitized, perfect world. As a teacher of history, she believes “by understanding history, we understand the world,” but she fails to realize that history is all too often an “official” version. She’s never questioned authority or the “official” versions of the past, and at the beginning of the film, she’s flabbergasted when a student argues that, “history is written by assassins.” Slowly, she begins to connect with those around her–including a fellow teacher who explains that Alicia didn’t want to believe the horrific truth because to believe murders and tortures were really happening would be to acknowledge “complicity.”
The Official Story is a perfect film on every level. It’s incredible to realize that so many people just ‘disappeared’ in Argentina between 1976-1983, and the film brings home the pain and the horror while making this a very human, moving story. Directed by Luis Puenzo, The Official Story is in Spanish with English subtitles.