The Official Story (La historia oficial)

The Official Story

History is the memory of its peoples.

There’s lots of different types of films that make the list; there’s the important ones, for political or other historical reasons, there’s the unique ones, and there’s the ones that are just really good films. It’s not often you get a film that crosses the dividers between these categories, but here we have The Official Story, which ticks the checkboxes for both politically relevant and being a pretty darn good film all around. It’s not “oh my god” amazing, but if you remove the hood and take a look at the underworkings, you’ll see a level of craftsmanship you probably wouldn’t expect from such a simple flick. That, coupled with the state of Argentinian politics at the time this was made (reportedly, director Luis Puenzo had planned on filming the entire film in secret with hidden cameras before the government the film subverts ended up being toppled before production began), and it’s a wonder this didn’t survive the 10th Edition’s restructuring.

The film follows Alicia, a schoolteacher living in Buenos Aires with her husband Roberto and adopted daughter Gaby in the midst of a political upheaval. It’s when an old friend, Ana, comes back to town that she begins to suspect that her daughter may be an unknowing victim of the political strife that threatens to uproot the government, and which her husband, a government agent, knows all too well about, and thus, she begins to look for the truth. The film is pretty unassuming at first, until the character of Ana comes in, and, after a dinner party with the main character, begins regaling her with the tale of how she was kidnapped and tortured at the hands of the government for allegedly harboring a subversive, and how they would take children from their leftist parents and sell them to unsuspecting and unquestioning families. It is a clear turning point in the narrative, and sparks the questions and actions of Alicia in the second act, which coupled with the subversive antics of her schoolchildren leads her to begin her quest for the truth, and to try and figure out how deeply her husband is involved, which all culminated in the climax of the film. Some might find the ending a little too cut-off-ish (as in, the story just kinda ends right after the climax), but I actually found it quite appropriate; the story, as we know it, isn’t about the truth behind Gaby’s parentage, but instead it uses that MacGuffin to rip up the curtains that have blocked Alicia’s view of the outside world, while also examining her relationship with her husband, so when that plot thread reaches its conclusion, there’s no need for the film to go any further. It’s an economical decision, and I found it a good one. That, plus the excellent acting from all involved (Norma Aleandro would win Best Actress honors at Cannes) made this a pretty nice picture all around.

This ended up being the first film from Argentina (and, so far, the first of only two) to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. I don’t know if it deserved it over the other nominees, or even over some of the other films released in 1985 (I could name at least two), but I’m okay with this one claiming that particular prize, especially since it meets so many of the qualifications that the Academy tends to like in its films, foreign or not. I’ve said it a couple times already during this review, and I’ll say it again; this is just a good, well done film, and unless you know or are interested in Argentinian politics, you really don’t need to ask of this any more than that.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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