Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Official Story is about political oppression and lies and the kind of high crimes and
atrocities that were common occurrences in the cold war years, in countries where dictatorships were
'encouraged' to fight communism with whatever means they could. Unlike the conspiracy thriller
"Z" and others of its kind, this
absorbing drama shows how a family seemingly above reproach can be revealed to be rotten to the core.
A serious history lesson and a warning to any country divided along political lines, this film by
Luis Puenzo (Old Gringo) is one of
the finest to come out of Latin America.
Alicia (Norma Aleandro) teaches secondary school in Buenos Aires and her husband
Roberto (Héctor Alterio) is
an officer in the military governmment. They have a beautiful young daughter, Gaby and everything
seems to be fine. Then old girlfriend Ana (Chunchuna Villafañe) returns from Europe, and
Alicia is moved by the story of why
she left so hastily six years before: She'd been tortured and raped by government forces seeking
the whereabouts of a boyfriend in her past, an anti-government radical. Roberto discourages Alicia
from taking Ana's story seriously, but Alicia investigates and discovers a horrible truth.
Her 'adopted' daughter may be the stolen offspring of radical students murdered by her husband's
men. Alicia makes contact with the Grandmothers who protest daily on behalf of the thousands of
'disappeareds' and eventually finds one woman who may be Gaby's Grandmother. But what can she
possibly do about it?
Alicia's story is a domestic nightmare. The home is supposed to be sacred and it's important to
keep it separate and secure from the problems of politics and ideology; the goal of the middle
class would seem to be to insure that kind of security. Alicia slowly discovers that the 'troubles'
of several years before reach right into her home, and that her marriage is built on lies and
Alicia's husband Roberto is part of a small political group who quietly arrange diplomatic and
military 'exchange' between the Argentine government and the C.I.A.. His office's personnel are
well off, smug about the rightness of their work and have a solidarity of purpose. They often meet
for dinner with their wives, and Alicia bridles at the arrogance of the top man's missus, who takes
it upon herself to criticize the other wives. Alicia has no cause to worry about it, but this
loudmouthed woman alludes to something being wrong about Gaby's adoption and Alicia not being able
to bear children of her own.
Then Ana shows up with her horrendous story of torture and rape, and Alicia doesn't know what to
believe. Roberto's disdainful response is to tell her not to associate with 'that bitch,' and her
lies, but he objects far too quickly and Alicia knows she's being lied to. That leads to the
investigation of the Grandmothers of the Disappeareds with the help of another teacher. The closer
Alicia gets to the truth, the more domineering and unreasonable her husband becomes. Her innocent
search for a fact threatens national security, the way he talks, and he still refuses to be honest
with her, demaninding that she just ignore the situation and stop making trouble. Of course, Alicia
cannot, especially after she sees the photos of a pair of sweethearts barely out of their teens,
who were murdered leaving behind a missing baby.
The Official Story's brilliance lies in the way it equates Roberto's paternalistic oppression
of his own wife (be happy, enjoy my success, stop asking questions) with the way criminal governments
operate. The Argentine military dictatorship was supported by outside money and expertise on how to
conduct interrogations with torture. Thousands of Argentine citizens were kidnapped, tortured,
imprisoned and murdered by right-wing death squads secretly operating for the dictator and funded
'from overseas.' None of this is fantasy, as 60 Minutes once had chilling feature stories
about the children of murdered 'radicals' - anyone denounced as anti-government - being adopted by
police families who could not have children. "The Official Story" equates with almost any goverment
evasion or falsehood meant to place a screen in front of sanctioned lies and criminal activity. The
Argentine government didn't fall until the junta sought to unite the country behind military activity,
the failed reconquest of the Malvinas that was quickly put down by the British in 1982.
The Official Story is especially interesting because it shows an angle on Latin American life
rarely seen in export films. The people are cosmopolitans living a lifestyle comparable to that of
citizens in Europe or the U.S.; this isn't the stereotyped 'leftist' movie about downtrodden peons
struggling against all odds. The movie also cleverly uses the conventions of a soap opera as its
framework. Alicia's problem starts with a simple question about her family that needs to be cleared
up and never lets itself balloon into a conspiracy story with larger consequences. Roberto is a false
husband who would rather do his wife harm than let her seriously question his crimes. His paternalistic
tyranny aligns perfectly with the official tyranny that tortures and murders for the good of the
The acting is exceptional. Norma Aleandro is a busy working housewife surrounded by non-working
petty damas de casa; Chunchuna Villafañe seems more modern and liberated for her
time away from the country, even though she suffers permanent emotional damage. Héctor Alterio
is the good company man making deals with American emissaries and exercising his masculine perogative
to criticize Ana while leering at her. He's particularly convincing when trying to force Alicia
to obey him and stop asking questions, just because he's the man of the family. Analia Castro is
the incredibly cute daughter Gaby, who reminds of the Argentinian cartoon character Mafalda;
she's the most memorable tot I've seen in a Latin American film.
Politically speaking, The Official Story is a brave movie for its director and producers; it
with the singing of the Argentine national anthem. Blind and thoughtless patriotism is an important
part of the evil that Alicia comes to know. The film won the Best Foreign Film award at the
1985 Golden Globes, and lead actress Norma Aleandro won best Actress at Cannes the same year.
Koch Lorber's DVD of The Official Story looks fine, with an enhanced picture much improved from
an earlier flat disc. Color and detail are better and the English subtitles are removable, which
makes the clear Spanish spoken by these Argentines an excellent teaching aid.
There are no extras.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Official Story rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 20, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson