Blog Directory CineVerse: Here's the (unofficial) story on The Official Story

Here's the (unofficial) story on The Official Story

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Intimate portraits are often the effective gateway for filmmakers to convey wider political or historical narratives. Such is the case with The Official Story, a powerful film from 1985, directed by Luis Puenzo, that depicts the repercussions of Argentina’s Dirty War on its survivors. Here’s our CineVerse assessment of this picture (to listen to a recording of our group discussion of this movie, click here).

What did you find admirable, memorable, intriguing, or different about The Official Story?

  • It attempts to tell a larger real-life political tale pulled from the pages of history by employing a personal narrative, focusing on a bourgeois schoolteacher who is mostly oblivious to the actions of her husband and Argentina’s oppressive government.
  • This story feels authentic and true largely because the filmmakers involved lived through this. The director, Argentinian Luis Puenzo, wrote this story while the military dictatorship was still in place and shot the movie entirely in the city of Buenos Aires, including the Plaza de Mayo site where the Mothers of the Plaza demonstrated regularly. Also, actress Norma Aleandro went into exile at the time this story takes place, not returning to her native land until the military government fell in 1983.
  • The movie isn’t sensationalistic or exaggerated. The filmmakers could have visually depicted more of the violence and suffering that actually ensued in the countr and introduced more dramatic twists, plots, and suspense, but they chose to tell the story primarily through the eyes of one woman who serves as a surrogate for the audience – late to learn about the terrible crimes committed by the government, as many viewers were.

Trace the path to enlightenment that Alicia travels. In order, what encounters and events open her eyes and change her mind about Argentina’s Dirty War in which 30,000 people disappeared?

  • During a dinner out with her husband’s colleagues and their spouses, one of the wives subtly criticizes and questions the fact that Alicia has an adopted daughter.
  • In her classroom, Alicia continually observes and confronts students who question or reject official textbook history. She senses a left-leaning mentality and open-minded cynicism in many of her students that she gradually grows more acceptive of toward the end of the film.
  • When she reunites with an old friend, she learns that the friend was tortured, imprisoned, and raped simply for having a dissident boyfriend.
  • A gathering at her in-laws’ home and a visit to her husband’s office impress upon Alicia that her husband is probably on the wrong side of history, possibly involved with shady government dealings.
  • She pulls down the box of her adopted daughter’s belongings and, without a word, realizes that the girl’s parents were probably killed or disappeared.
  • Alicia eventually learns that the parents of her adopted daughter may have been killed and that her maternal grandmother is alive and eager to reunite with the child.

Themes crafted into The Official Story

  • Wokeness: Becoming politically awakened and enlightened about the murder, torture, imprisonment, and plight of dissidents and their stolen offspring.
  • The importance of learning from history. Alicia is, fittingly, a history teacher – one who follows a government-approved curriculum and preaches adherence to recorded history but eventually learns that the history books can be filled with lies and deception.
  • The guilt of complicity. Even though Alicia has been relatively unaware of and oblivious to the crimes committed by the government and the suffering of other Argentinians, she gradually realizes that she’s inadvertently been part of the problem, which drives her desire to seek the truth and a resolution about her adopted daughter.
  • Truth is its own reward, a sentiment expressed by Alicia’s students, many of whom demonstrate that they don’t accept what is taught in history textbooks.
  • Profound moral dilemmas:
    • Alicia feels compelled to learn the truth about how she came to adopt Gaby and who Gaby’s parents were, but this may result in her losing Gaby and ruining her marriage.
    • Likewise, Alicia is trained and expected to teach her students government-approved history, but many of her students object to what is taught, eventually contributing to Alicia questioning “the official story” of Argentina’s recent history. This could lead to Alicia losing passion for her profession or getting fired.
    • Also, without objecting or questioning, Alicia listens to many people around her as they make subtle or direct political statements, and only by the end of the film does she address injustice directly by confronting her husband; this puts her at risk physically (we see her attacked by her husband), jeopardizes her marriage, and ultimately results in Gaby possibly living with her biological grandmother.

Similar films worth mentioning

  • Z
  • El Norte
  • Missing
  • The Magdalene Sisters
  • Oranges and Sunshine
  • Argentinian films made about Argentina’s Dirty War, including Funny Dirty Little War, Night of the Pencils, and Veronica Cruz
  • Sophie’s Choice

Other movies directed by Luis Puenzo

  • Old Gringo starring Gregory Peck and Jane Fonda
  • The Plague starring William Hurt and Robert Duvall

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