“Argentina, 1985,” January 30, 2023 (2022), Amazon Prime, Dubbed. The dubbing’s good, but I wish we could have seen it subtitled, especially para mi esposa bilingue.
We enjoyed director and co-writer Santiago Mitre’s ‘based-on-a-true-story’ of people making major changes in their society. Argentina’s military dictatorship (1975-83) was gone, but none of the criminals who led it or perpetrated crimes against the people of Argentina had been held to account. They’d gone to war against their own people, arresting, torturing, disappearing thousands, and sought to cover it with the Malvinas/Fauklands War. One was a horror, the other a painful defeat. Yet they were not held responsible for anything.
And then came The Trial of the Juntas. The Ministry of Justice turned to Julio Cesar Strasera (Ricardo Darin), a middle-aged prosecutor who had danced on a high wire during the dictatorship. As his wife (Gina Mastronicola) asks, is he afraid of “once again being unable to do anything” about the situation, as he was during the dictatorship? And he has reason to be afraid. He doesn’t know if he’s being set up to take the heat for a failed prosecution or another coup. His young assistant, Novio Veronica (Francisco Bertin) comes to the brilliant observation that they must be able to win over the middle classes who, including parts of his own family, supported and still support the Junta. They put together a team of young and inexperienced lawyers to find the victims throughout the country, learn their stories of torture and murder at military bases throughout the country, and convince them to face the risk of murder and opprobrium by testifying. Only by doing this can they demonstrate a conspiracy at the very top of the Argentine Junta and military and make the horror real by showing the whole country the nightmare the government inflicted on its own citizens. Only by doing this can they legitimate a system of law that holds all to account.
The acting is solid and the film moves briskly despite its 2 hour 20 minute run time. That’s no mean feat. But a bit more setup would have helped; for example, there’s no real exploration of Strassera’s behavior during the years of the dictatorship and how he survived it. The point here, however, is to recreate a shared memory that, 40 years on, is at risk of being aged out. Like “No!,” the Chilean film about the successful electoral campaign to end the Pinochet dictatorship, the movie demonstrates that where there is sufficient will, liberal democracy can work. Would that the same was as evident in this country.