Tag Archives: state murders

Pinochet’s Last Stand (2006)

“I’m hounded by Communists.”

You wouldn’t catch me cozying up to a right-wing fascist dictator responsible for the murders and torture of 1000s of people, but apparently good old Margaret Thatcher couldn’t wait to squeeze in for a photo shoot in one scene of the HBO-BBC made-for-television film Pinochet’s Last Stand  (AKA Pinochet in Suburbia) The title, by the way, has an ironic meaning that should become clear by the film’s conclusion.

The film charts the former leader of Chile, Pinochet’s 1998 trip to England, the struggles of human rights groups to detain him in Britain pending extradition to Spain to answer for his crimes, and the legal wrangle that took place. It’s not exactly gripping drama, but this is an interesting film nonetheless for the questions it raises. Pinochet (Derek Jacobi) is depicted as a cunning, arrogant and egotistical old git who stalwartly believes that he is above the law, above any sort of ‘moral’ justice, and does not have to answer for any of his actions. Of course this is the man who took over Chile after the suicide of Allende, and with Socialist president Allende out of the way, Pinochet swept away and “disappeared” anyone leftie he could get his hands on. Of course, with someone like Pinochet, most people are lefties, so that kept the field wide open.

The film depicts the shenanigans behind the legal maneuvers, and the pressures brought to bear against Home Secretary Jack Straw (Michael Maloney). There’s pressure from the US (Bush, the Elder) to hand Pinochet back to Chile (after all the US had supported the overthrow of Allende), and on the other side of the fence, there’s Amnesty International. Then there’s Baroness Thatcher nauseatingly helping Pinochet with his image-makeover. The two old fascists have a cozy time of it together. The film shows how fascists remain resolute while government lefties (Straw) always cave and make concessions. Tony Blair doesn’t qualify as a leftie even though he’s arguably a member of the Labour Party.

The film touches briefly on the crimes committed by Pinochet, and it’s a shame the film didn’t go into this area with more detail. It’s estimated that over 3,000 people were ‘disappeared’ and about 30,000 tortured. One of the Chilean protestors, Nicole (Yolanda Vazquez) plays a woman haunted by her sister’s rape, torture and subsequent disappearance.

Mainly this film raised some questions for debate in my home. Should Pinochet, for example, have been extradited to Spain for crimes against humanity? Should another country prosecute a dictator (Pinochet in this case) when the man’s own country’s judicial system is willing to turn a blind eye? Of course, there are precedents to consider here–the Nuremberg Trials, for example, and our very own Guantanamo Bay where residents of many countries around the globe are grabbed, locked up and not even tried for the crimes of which they are accused. Should crimes against humanity be tried by another country under the idea of Universal Jurisdiction? It shouldn’t be too surprising that Henry Kissinger opposed such a position.

Ultimately, it’s amazing to see how Pinochet achieved victimhood, but sadly the film failed to raise the outrage the subject matter so clearly warranted, and that’s a pity.

From director Richard Curson Smith


Filed under British television, Political/social films

Cautiva (2003)

 “Why would I want to know?”

cautivaCautiva 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.

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Filed under Argentinean, Political/social films

Ojos Que No Ven (2003)

 “One corrupt government is over and you want another scoundrel for president?”

In 2000, secret videotapes showing the corrupt activities of Montesinos, the long-time head of Peru’s Intelligence Service were broadcast on Peru’s only independent news channel. Montesinos, who attended the notorious U.S. School of the Americas (AKA Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), virtually ran Peru under its Premier Alberto Fujimora. Montesinos made literally thousands of secret videotapes of himself meeting and bribing various politicians, journalists, and television station owners, and Montesinos also supervised the secret death squad known as the Colina Group.

ojosThe film, Ojos Que No Ven weaves six interconnected stories against the backdrop of the tainted and troubled political scene in Peru. While this is not an overtly political film, the plot illustrates the moral decay which permeates Peruvian society, and shows how a handful of Peruvian citizens are affected by the Montesinos scandal and the subsequent downfall of Fujimora’s government.

When the film begins, two elderly patients in a decaying Peruvian hospital watch a television station that broadcasts the first of the Montesinos tapes. Their medical conditions enforce their stationary observations as the political scandal unfolds and the country collapses. One of the elderly men is visited by his innocent granddaughter, Mercedes (Melania Urbina). In the political fallout from the Montesinos scandal, Mercedes’ father is arrested, and she seeks help from the decadent, corrupt lawyer, Federico Penaflor (Gustavo Bueno).

Meanwhile, with the government in freefall, it’s still not clear how far investigations of various atrocities will go. Chauca (Carlos Alcantara), a petty criminal and a member of the Colina Group participates in yet another politically motivated killing, and when things go wrong, he’s on the run with his girlfriend, a make-up artist who works for a self-focused newscaster, Gonzalo (Paul Vega).

In another thread, an introverted, round-shouldered minor clerk rooms with a poverty-stricken family, and he idolizes the nasty daughter from afar. The clerk is a Walter Mitty type with an inner film noir dialogue, and he seems impervious to his idol’s rough rejections. The clerk’s employment brings him into contact with the Montesinos videotapes, and ironically this contact yields an opportunity for corruption and possible success in his courtship. Paradoxically, however, it’s clear that the clerk’s opportunity for corruption and successful courtship will inevitably yield only grief.

In another connected story, an army colonel (Gianfranco Brero) who faces scandal and imprisonment contemplates suicide until he runs into the wife of a murdered man.

At 150 minutes, the film Ojos Que No Ven (AKA What the Eye Doesn’t See) weaves together its many interconnected stories. The socio-political merit of the film, however, is somewhat weakened by several elements–the character of the clerk, and the apparent moral transformation of the army colonel, for example–are the poorer facets of the film. Nonetheless, if you like Latin cinema, and you enjoy a politically-driven story, Ojos Que No Ven from director Francisco J. Lombardi is well worth watching. In Spanish with English subtitles.

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Filed under Peruvian, Political/social films

The Official Story (1985)

 “By preaching destabilization, they encourage subversive ideas.”

storyThe 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.

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Filed under Argentinean, Political/social films