“Argentina, 1985”, which was selected as the Argentine submission to Best International Film Oscar in last year and recently won the Best Non-English Language Film award at the Golden Globes, is a calm but powerful period drama surrounding one big historical trial in 1985. As following the long struggles of one plain prosecutor and his numerous assistants toward justice and democracy, the movie vividly takes us into that unstable time right after the end of the dictatorship during 1976-1983, and we are reminded again of how difficult it often is to restore democracy after such a terrible period like that.
At the beginning, the movie succinctly establishes how fragile the situation was in the Argentine society in 1984. The reign of the terror by a group of military leaders who crushed thousands of people by any means necessary was finally over, and the new government promised the new beginning for the country and its people, but there was a big legal matter involved with those central figures of the dictatorship. At least, they would be prosecuted at a federal court instead of a military court, but there was not much chance for sending all of them to jail, and that is why Julio César Strassera (Ricardo Darín) is not so pleased about being assigned to this rather tricky case. As a weary but dutiful prosecutor, he is ready to take the job as instructed, but he knows too well that the chance of winning is slim to say the least – and that he will be certainly humiliated in public if he loses as expected.
However, Strassera is also determined to try his best because, like many people in the country, he absolutely abhors the dictatorship even though he could not do anything against it during that grim time. As he begins his first day of preparation along with his young assistant prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani), he looks for anyone willing to work under him, and he comes to interview lots of young employees mainly because they are more drawn to challenge in addition to being more likely to dislike the dictatorship.
In case of Ocampo, this passionate lad is in a rather awkward position from the beginning as the son of a prominent right-wing family connected well with lots of powerful dudes including a general who is incidentally one of several defendants of the case. While his mother, who is your average hardcore conservative, does not approve much of what he is about to do, she respects his professional choice at least, and she surely warns him a bit when they are going to attend a social meeting which is packed with guys not so amused about what he and Strassera are doing at present.
And it soon turns out that those supporters of the dictatorship are ready to stop Strassera and Ocampo as much as possible. As he feared right from the start, Strassera and his family often receive anonymous threats on the phone, and they even receive a short but undeniably disturbing letter which may really be sent from someone in the Argentine military. The police provide some security to Strassera and his family as expected, but the police cannot be trusted that much because, after all, they were closely associated with the dictatorship during that time.
The social/political pressure keeps accumulating on Strassera and his prosecution team even after they manage to succeed in assembling a hefty amount of documents and testimonies within less than 4 months. While the judges presiding over the case are not exactly helpful at times, the lawyers of the defendants are certainly ready to tackle against Strassera and his prosecution team in one way or another, and the defendants regard everything with aloof disinterest while fully expecting to be acquitted sooner or later.
Nevertheless, Strassera and his prosecution team do not step back at all as presenting one evidence after another during their long trial. As Ocampo pointed out in advance, they must sway the public opinion more to their argument, and a series of harrowing testimonies of the survivors of the dictatorship, which are incidentally broadcast all over the country, become quite crucial in their strategy. The camera simply observes what these survivors testify at the court one by one, but it is difficult not to feel their immense pain and sorrow, and we can really see how that emotionally affects many people around the country.
As the humble center of the story, Ricardo Darín, who has been more prominent thanks to Oscar-winning Argentine film “The Secrets in Their Eyes” (2009), steadily carries the film to the end without overshadowing his fellow cast members at all. While Peter Lanzani is certainly a standout in the bunch, several main performers playing the members of Strassera’s prosecution team are also effective in their respective supporting roles, and Alejandra Flechner, Claudio Da Passano, and Santiago Armas Estevarena provide some warmth and humor as Strassera’s supportive family members.
In conclusion, “Argentina, 1985”, which is currently available in Amazon Prime, is very engaging thanks to its restrained but passionate storytelling, and director/co-writer Santiago Mitre, who received the FIPRESCI Award when the movie was premiered at the Venice International Film Festival several months ago, deserves to be commended for making another notable Argentine film to be placed along with Oscar-winning Argentine film “The Official Story” (1985), which is also about the dictatorship during 1976-1983. Although nearly 40 years have passed since the end of the dictatorship, the movie powerfully illustrates why that terrible time should not be forgotten at all even at present, and the result is one of more interesting films of last year.
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