“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905.
All countries have moments in their history that they shouldn't be proud of. Yet, some people remain trapped in a past that benefited a few in order to subdue others, remembering those times with nostalgia. It is, therefore, essential to remember the mistakes that were made and scrutinize them with new generations who could be swayed by manipulative populist discourses. Argentina, 1985 (2022) is a film that likely works better for people who have had contact with similar realities. It works better for those who fear that everything will happen again. And that is the importance of this film. To remember, and to never forget.
The film takes place in the period right after the end of the military dictatorship in Argentina. Many people wanted nothing to be done with those who were responsible for the atrocities. They believed it was time to move on; senior military officers considered their actions to be justified. It is one man's job to prove that all the culprits must be held accountable, and in order to do so, he will count on the help of a young and inexperienced team.
The script by Mariano Llinás and Santiago Mitre is, above all, quite intelligent. They know that it is impossible to talk about the excesses of a dictatorship without taking the subject seriously. They know that one cannot speak about the deprivation of human rights without giving voice to direct and indirect victims. But they also know that they speak to a 2022 audience who wants to be informed but also doesn't want to be bored. It is true that it is impossible to escape some narrative predictability in a film that spends half its time as an exercise in investigative journalism and the other half in court trying war crimes. We know where it wants to go and where it will go.
However, the writers innovate in several areas so that it never feels like you are watching just another film in the courtroom genre. It incorporates personal/familiar elements that allow us to connect more with its main characters and incorporates unexpected elements of humor in order to create some degree of lightness. Criminal actions are explored and we listen to their victims, but we listen to them as whole beings, understanding how they felt but never lessening their tragedy to make it go down easier. It is a film that is not afraid to point fingers and judge those who were judged, but it is also a film that seeks to give signs of hope in better days. For this to happen, it is essential that history does not repeat itself. Nunca más!
From innovative montages to parallel split-screen scenes, there are many editing choices to highlight. That point also leads us to how the director, Santiago Mitre, manages to coordinate all these elements, including the excellent dynamics that we see from the outstanding range of actors. Ricardo Darin as the attorney Júlio César Strassera is the driving force of this story, sporting a noble sense of duty and a practical will to do more. If he is a complete, sober and thoughtful character, no less fascinating are his relationships. His wife plays a fundamental role, but even his children offer insight into his depth. His dynamic with his new partner, Luis Ocampo (Peter Lanzani), a young man who at first was received with distrust, is just as intriguing.
The duo represents an old and a new generation – generations separated by different ways of seeing life, but equally willing to build a better and fairer Argentina. The prosecutor's closing arguments will bring tears to anyone, especially those who’ve had firsthand experience of or heard stories from their parents or grandparents who lived under dictatorships. It's an excellent speech: it attacks the wolves, defends the victims and convinces us that addressing the tragedies head-on is necessary. It is necessary to start the healing process, even if they will never be completely healed. It is not by forgetting the past that something good will come. We need to remember. The world needs to remember.
Argentina, 1985 is a 140-minute film. Sometimes, we may be tempted to look at the clock. After all, the recounted historical episodes are not pleasant to remember and certain testimonies may provoke feelings ranging from disgust to anger, with an additional layer of impotence that the victims and their families must have felt. Still, no matter the reprehensibility of the details, the movie’s tone is meant to dispel anxieties. It does not focus on atrocities. It doesn't focus on being stuck in the past. Mitre wants to highlight the good people. The people who fought, who fight, who suffered and continue to suffer for a better country. The bad guys are present and they must be judged, but history, from now on, must be built by the good people. This film tells us about a few of them.
Ignorance can be bliss, but it is also temporary. Only through historical awareness can we prevent the same from happening again. Nunca más.
Argentina, 1985 is streaming on Amazon Prime.