Updated: Nov 8, 2018
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“THE OFFICIAL STORY”
Blu-ray, DVD; 1985; Not Rated, but contains violence and adult themes; streaming via Amazon Prime, FandangoNow, iTunes, Vudu
Best extra: A four-part interview with producer/director/co-writer Luis Puenzo
WINNER of the 1985 Best Foreign Film Academy Award among its many other honors, “The Official Story” is an elegant fictional saga drawn from Argentina’s recent history with a repressive right-wing government. More than 30,000 dissident students, artists and intellectuals were arrested or kidnapped, and then tortured and murdered. They became known as the “desaparecidos” (disappeared).
“The Official Story” is about a wealthy couple: Alicia (Norma Aleandro, who won a best actress award at Cannes) and Roberto (Héctor Alterio), who have an adored 5-year-old daughter named Gaby (Analia Castro). Alicia, who teaches history at a boys’ high school, dotes on the charming child whose adoption was arranged by her husband, and about which she knows little. But when Alicia attends a reunion and reconnects with a friend and former classmate who has just returned from exile, things change.
After several glasses of wine, Ana (Chunchuna Villafañe) relates a horrific story of being kidnapped by the police, tortured and raped, because she had once lived with a fugitive political activist. Ana tells Alicia about young women who gave birth in detention and whose babies were taken from them and given to families sympathetic to the regime. This begins Alicia’s loss of innocence and her reluctant, but compulsive quest for the truth about Gaby, whose adoption Roberto not only refuses to discuss, but becomes enraged when Alicia brings it up.
This Cohen Media Group Blu-ray looks very good, thanks to meticulous restoration of the original print. All signs of dirt or scratches were removed, and the overall color was made consistent and well-saturated. Fine detail is sharp and close-ups are especially clear, with every eyelash and teardrop visible. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also excellent, with sound effects and the (sometimes overdone) musical score perfectly balanced. Spanish dialogue (with English subtitles) is extremely clear.
Extras include a brief restoration demonstration featurette, and a 2018 re-release trailer. The recent interview with Puenzo provides enough information to satisfy any enthusiast. He talks about his career, which began in commercials, and his decision to write about the political situation in Argentina at the end of the Falklands War, which he calls a “disgrace.”
Puenzo’s co-writer was an ex-journalist, Aída Bortnik, who had received threats after she wrote a series for Argentine television, which she considered tame compared to “The Official Story.” Puenzo says they chose that title because it implies that there is “another story” to be told. He describes Alicia’s moral awakening to having opened a Pandora’s Box, “an engine that cannot stop,” a tragedy “where everything you do goes against your own interests – and you can’t stop doing it.”
Puenzo says he and Bortnik had to remove the journalistic tone from the screenplay, but they wanted to illustrate the “economic power of the torturers” and the complicity of the military and the police with the government. Puenzo discusses the seeming ignorance of the general Argentine public, despite detention centers existing in almost every Buenos Aires neighborhood. He notes that, in addition to adults and teenagers, children were murdered if they were considered old enough to be “witnesses.” The government’s rationale for giving dissidents’ very young children and babies to families sympathetic to the regime was to “separate them from the ideology of their parents.”
Puenzo talks about working with an activist group called the “Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo,” which is represented in the film. Members of that group agreed to allow Puenzo to use actual photos and files of their disappeared children and grandchildren in “The Official Story.”
The director talks about casting Analia Castro as Gaby. Analia was a year younger than her character, which is atypical when casting children, but it worked well because Analia was an acting “prodigy.”
Puenzo says after several weeks of shooting, he began getting threatening phone calls, so he publicly shut down production, but continued to shoot in secret. Puenzo concludes that he was just as much in denial as other Argentinians during the years of repression, calling what happened “a powerful collective disease.”
— Peggy Earle