Tuesday, January 31, 2017

1985 Winner, The Official Story

The Official Story

Directed by:  Luis Puenzo

Distributor:  Almi Pictures

Released:  April 1985

Country:  Argentina

I love movies that pull the rug out from under us.  Or more accurately, movies that pull the rug out from under the main character.  I’m talking about when someone is going through life thinking he or she has it all figured out, then suddenly and completely unexpectedly, a momentous revelation changes everything.  What I find fascinating is watching how the character reacts, and how he or she will deal with the surprise.  Sometimes it’s a classic full-on twist at the end of the film, like in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, when Bruce Willis acts in quiet shock and then quick resignationOr maybe the story is all about the epiphany itself, like when Keanu Reeves discovers his whole reality is completely false in The Matrix (“Whoa!!”).  Sometimes, the big reveal may not be the main plot point, but still a huge surprise, like in The Crying Game, when Stephen Rea discovers there is more than he realized to the girl he had fallen for (“Aw, nuts!”).

The Official Story has one of these reveals.  But in this movie, the rug is slowly, slowly pulled out
The happy family:  Gaby, Roberto, and Alicia
from under Alicia, the affluent wife of Roberto, a high-ranking government agent in the Peron government of 1980’s Argentina.  She is raising their daughter Gaby, a lovely little girl who is very much attached to her father, in an idyllic family setting.  Roberto is a likeable enough man who would do anything for his family.  Alicia, who teaches school, is elegant and kind-hearted, and very much loves her husband and daughter.  Which means these fine people are really neatly set-up bowling pins just waiting to get knocked down spectacularly.

This time of dictatorship was also the setting of the very engaging Best Foreign Film from 2009, The Secret in Their Eyes. In The Official Story, Roberto struggles with reconciling two parts of his life: On the one hand, he is working for a ruthless dictatorial government and is being well-compensated for it; on the other, he is a product of a humble upbringing and wishes to have a loving family life.  His father, who is a poor but righteous man, gives him serious jazz for being who he is, which completely ticks him off, mostly because he knows his father is right.

Tony, how could you afford this?
The genesis of Alicia’s loss of footing comes from her old friend Ana, who describes to her what she has gone through for having been in a relationship with a man considered subversive by the government.  Alicia isn’t unlike Carmella Soprano in The Sopranos, blissfully unaware of what her husband does for a living, but enjoying living in a nice house with a nice family.  Should she leave well-enough alone for her daughter’s benefit, or is it important to find out what unpleasant truth may be around the corner?

The Title:  La historia oficialYou have to watch to find out the real story.

The Culture:  The film takes place during the so-called Dirty War of Argentina in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, when the military government’s policy toward its dissidents could be summed up as: “I see dead people.”  People all over the country disappeared like my kids when it’s time to do dishes.  The film looks at what it must have been like to be a member of the government who did that dirty
Vanished:  Child actor
work and what it must have been like to be on the receiving end.

Agenda danger:  The film is a political statement, made about 2 years after the restoration of a democratic government.

Best Picture that year:  Out of Africa

Rating:  A bit unnerving and sad, but the story is an intriguing one.  I found myself empathizing with Alicia, who knows that she is better off not knowing the truth, but strives to find it anyway.  I also couldn’t help feel bad for Roberto, who struggles with his conscious about his role in the government and his relationship with his family.

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