‘Argentina, 1985’: Venice Review No peoples can survive without memory
By Fionnuala Halligan, screendaily 3 September 2022
A complex, rewarding drama which should be favoured by the politically-aware.
30,000 people disappeared during the Junta’s seven-year rule. What happened in Argentina, the grief of the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, stunned the world, and devastated its citizens. In Argentina, 1985, they have a worthy testament to it. Ricardo Darin gives an awards-worthy performance in Santiago Mitre’s rousing real-life courtroom thriller.
Justice, Argentina, 1985 suggests, isn’t a destination but a constant process. --Keith Watson, Slant Magazine
Santiago Mitre’s powerful and frighteningly timely film, Argentina 1985, examines, in docu-detail, the ’80s landmark trial of the Juntas, exposing the human rights violations by the fascist dictators. --Frank J. Avella, Awards Daily
In Argentina, 1985, Santiago Mitre, a director who likes to sink his teeth into knotty back-room dramas, delivers a rousing political thriller based on real-life events as Argentina made a faltering transition from the murderous rule of the military Junta to democracy and the start of restorative justice.
A courtroom drama with a committed, awards-worthy performance from Ricardo Darin, this tense, lengthy, frequently funny film stands with the best of the genre, but with added resonance. Just because a thuggish regime is overthrown doesn’t mean the people behind it go away: the tentacles of terror must be pulled away from the very framework of the system they’ve infested. That’s a lesson which resonates right now, and Mitre’s and Maria Llinas’ fine screenplay illustrates how one country, and one man, went about achieving that goal.
You could take any Hollywood courtroom drama and stand Argentina, 1985 beside it. You could also look at the nine generals in the dock and see some relevance in your own country, wherever it may be. The Junta has stacked the system as Mitre’s film commences: even the new President is showing alarming signs of appeasement, and a court martial has decided there is no case for the military to answer. Enter public prosecutor Julio Strassera (Darin), the real-life Henry Fonda, or Gregory Peck, of Argentina, but Mitre’s film has a swampy, period feel that makes it feel like a textured bookend to a film like Missing. Strassera is also a more complicated hero: after all, he did nothing to stop the regime himself when the appalling crimes detailed here were taking place.
Premiering in Competition at Venice before a festival, and undoubtedly awards, rollout, Argentina, 1985is a complex, rewarding drama which should be favoured by the politically-aware. In structure, it can be compared to 1990’s similarly true-life Reversal Of Fortune, in which a real-life lawyer uses students to prove his case at trial (although nobody here will welcome a reference to Alan Dershowitz right now), or Pablo Larrain’s 2012 No, from Chile.
Mitre’s film has an unusual tone, which distinguishes it. Amidst the deathly serious tasks at hand, it takes time to establish Strassera’s paranoia in a jokey manner — he gets his young son to spy on his sister’s boyfriend — yet when the threat is real, he shows uncommon bravery. It’s this nuance of character that Darin uses to shade his portrayal of a family man tasked with prosecuting the Junta. He can turn to nobody for help — everyone he might approach to sit with him has been embedded in the regime and is dismissed as a fascist. He can’t trust the police. So he ends up with the youthful co-counsel Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani), whose grandfather was an Admiral and whose mother is pro-Junta. Their developing relationship grounds the film as law students disperse around the country to find evidence of terrible crimes which will later be revealed (30,000 people disappeared during the Junta’s seven-year rule).
It’s 1985, and Strassera wears glasses that George Smiley might covet; everyone chain-smokes to an alarming level. Production design is spot-on: this may be a courtroom drama (17 weeks of it, in real life), but it has a singular look, and Mitre uses Micaela Saiegh’s reproduction to douse the proceedings in tension (he also cuts between archive, fake archive, and photography as the film heads to a climax). Pedro Osuna’s score is also not predictable, neither does it direct the viewer obtrusively.
What happened in Argentina, the grief of the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, stunned the world, and devastated its citizens. In Argentina, 1985, they have a worthy testament to it.
Source: Amazon Studios / La Unión de los Ríos / Kenya Films / Infinity Hill / Ph Lina Etchesuri‘Argentina, 1985’
Dir: Santiago Mitre. Argentina. 2022. 150 mins. Production companies: La Union de los RiosWorldwide Distribution: Amazon Prime Producers: Vitoria Alonso, Santiago Carabante, Chino Darin, Ricardo Darin, Axel Kuschevatsky, Agustina Llambi-Campbell, Santiago Mitre, Federico Posternak Screenplay: Maria Llinas, Santiago Mitre Cinematography: Javier Julia Production design: Micaela Saiegh Editing: Andres P. Estrada Music: Pedro OsunaMain Cast: Ricardo Darin, Peter Lanzani