Thursday, March 22, 2012

Historia Official Chat

Tracy:  So, kidnapping and Dirty Wars and shocking spousal abuse, oh my! What did you think?
Natalie:  Yes! I liked it in that it seems to bring to light a situation that not too many people were/are aware of. I know about los desaparecidos because one of my many many many Spanish teachers lived in Argentina for a long time--which didn't help my Spanish pronunciation with other Spanish teachers but that's another story. But I know most people don't know about the thousands upon thousands of people who were just disappeared. And, a lot of this is coming to light now, as the NPR article you posted pointed out. The disappeared kids in Argentina were around our age so the idea that you could be in your 30s and not actually know the truth about your life is kind of a thing.
Tracy:  Yeah--that's why I liked it too. It gave the viewer a lot of information, but kept it story-centered and compelling. It didn't feel like a documentary, but they did a good job refracting a huge story through this one woman's coming to consciousness about what had happened in her own country, through realizing what happened, and was continuing to happen, in her own house. I also liked the dynamic between her and her students: "history is written by assassins." Wow.
Natalie:  Yeah, we weren't subjected to a "woe are the disappeared" story that might be effective in one sense but I think the idea that people didn't even know what was happening in their own homes--that a woman could raise a child without knowing the child's parents were murdered, that a woman could be married to a monster who very effectively covers his nastiness, that a woman's best friend could have been taken and tortured and raped without her knowing, that a history teacher knows so little about history. All of that could have been really overdone, seemed absurd, or at the very least made Alicia look like a damned fool. But I believed that it could happen, that part of the country was kept in the pitch black dark while unknowingly enabling these things to happen. That makes this approach much more scary than a documentary that might have shown dead bodies and torture.
Tracy:  I agree. It seems one of the weapons was silence. Making her best friend feel afraid to say what had happened to her, and of course literally silencing the dissidents. That's what makes the grandmothers' protest so moving and powerful to me. They're defying the silence and holding up these huge pictures of people that "should have been" gone. And I've got to say, I was tricked by Roberto at first as well, and was quite shocked at the swiftness and brutality of his attempt to "silence" Alicia.
Natalie:  One of the most powerful weapons was silence. Anyone who said anything was silenced and one of the ways of doing that was disappearing them--and then no one else talked because they didn't want to be disappeared or worsen then chances of family members who were already missing. And everyone else just knew not to talk about it. The dinner party at the beginning where the woman accuses everyone of various disgraces hints at Gaby's parentage but Alicia doesn't know enough to see that's what the woman is not quite saying. It was smart to make her a history teacher and they used it well because the students could be "dissidents" while just seeming like high school kids. I appreciated the way that trope was used. We weren't beaten over the head with it. Yes! The transformation of Roberto was slow, sneaky, and deliberate. I suspected he might have known something but I did not see his attack coming at all.
Tracy:  I didn't catch that with the woman at dinner! Smart. To go back to something you said earlier, what do you think Gaby's future is going to be like? I thought it was pretty chilling, the way the film ended. This was obviously pre the sort of DNA testing that people can choose to do now, so it just adds to the heartbreak that you can guess or assume, but not really know too much about where you came from.
Natalie:  And this was right at the end of the dirty war so no one was supporting these sorts of searches for relatives and the world wasn't aware of anything yet--and, of course, a lot of the country didn't know what was happening. I couldn't quite determine if the woman who might have been Gaby's grandmother wanted to take her away or if she would have let her stay with Alicia but wanted to be involved in her life (especially since Alicia clearly didn't know Gaby's origins before). I can't imagine they would have kept Gaby in the dark but either way would result in serious issues--one way and Gaby loses the only family she's known for five years, another way and Gaby has to deal with the fact that her "father" stole her (and who knows whether he was involved in killing her birth parents) . . . I'm sure it just magnifies and intensifies anything an adopted child might feel. But, I do agree that the open ending adds to the heartbreak and the uncertainty. How long until they can really find out about Gaby? And everyone else? I mean, no one who is going to say anything actually knows if her birth parents are dead. To make a film with that many open endings not feel like a complete waste of time is a feat.
Tracy:  I agree--I'm glad, well, "glad" they didn't make her parentage clear. It really highlights the psychological stakes of this for everyone. And, like that NPR story mentioned, at least now, if we write beyond the ending, there's a chance that her dad could go to jail. I was just really struck by how these murders keep reverberating 30 years later. Though that isn't really germane to the discussion of this movie. Which I think definitely belongs in the 1001, yes?
Natalie:  Right--we sort of know that the father knew she was stolen but how much more he knows is wide open. They have a general over for dinner regularly so he could be pretty involved, especially considering the dissolution of his company. Well, sort of germane in that it's a reason to watch the movie. It highlights an issue that is still in the news and causing heartbreak for people. Yes! Keep it in the 1001!
Revised to add: 1001 includes the film because it was "[m]ade in 1985, just after the collapse of military rule, Luis Puenzo’s film is a brave attempt to face uncomfortable truths. Stylistically conventional, and the ending, in which Alicia’s husband beats her, is fairly melodramatic, but the social anguish in The Official Story is certainly real. It was the film’s political rather than artistic credentials that led the American Academy to award it the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film."
Tracy:  Yay! And next: Tootsie. Which doesn't have murder, institutionalized torture, or anyone getting their hand slammed in a door.
Natalie:  Ha! Yay! Sparkly dresses!
 Tracy:  A cheesy 80s ballad!
 me:  Hooray :)

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