Submitted by Julio M
Oscar nominee for Best International Feature Film
Golden Globe Winner for Best Motion Picture – Non-English Language
The film recounts the efforts to prosecute the heads of the Military Juntas that ruthlessly ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983.
It is 1985. The country has transitioned to a peaceful democracy under Raul Alfonsin. Prosecutor Julio Strassera (Ricardo Darin) is given, by Presidential Decree, the commission of bringing to trial the ringleaders of the last military dictatorship that, with an iron fist, during the so-called “National Reorganization Process,” terrorized and kept under strict control and close eye, the whole of the Argentine population, undertaking thousands of extrajudicial incarcerations, tortures, questionings and forced disappearances, all using the excuse of “keeping order and pursuing the subversives.”
From the beginning, it is seen as an all but impossible task since the military leaders allude that no one other than the Armed Forces themselves could scrutinize them–thus making them untouchable– and they refuse to acknowledge the authority of the assembled civil tribunal. Moreover, to avoid the possibility of colliding with contemporary peers who could find themselves biased towards the former rules and look for mechanisms to acquit them, considering the numerous crimes that loom over them all, Strassera puts together a team of younger, albeit mostly inexperienced attorneys and Law students, including up-and-comer Co-prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani), who proves to be stand-up and driven, although, in more than one occasion, hot-headed and extremely conflicted, because the majority of his own family, being supporters of the previous regime, disapprove of his participation in these procedures.
Over the course of the following months, Strassera and his team go to great lengths to gather the necessary evidence -which proves to range from extremely difficult and risky to obtain, to impossible, due to the secretive nature of how the military leaders conducted themselves to give the impression of “order and discipline being kept”-. Additionally, they are the constant target of cowardly conducted threats in the shape of secret messages and harassing phone calls. For Strassera himself, this takes a toll on his personal life since his wife Silvia (Alejandra Flechner) is wary of the whole ordeal and what could come off it. His daughter Veronica (Gina Mastronicola) has been involved with a man who could be part of the former regime and could be spying on them. His young son Javi (Santiago Armas) is very taken and involved in his father’s efforts to attain justice for those affected by the dictatorship.
The initial hearings of the trial are marked by harrowing testimonies of survivors of the regime, who give, at large, details of how they were forcefully removed from their homes or pursued elsewhere, prolongedly and illegally detained, submitted to questionings, different forms of torture, how people who were supposed to be their friends and relatives, in many occasions and in exchange for leniency or a personal favor, denounced them to the authorities; and those who were not so lucky and ended up getting extrajudicially murdered or disappeared never to be found again. Particularly notable are, at this point, the presence of the “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo,” a congregation of grieving ladies whose children were directly targeted by the Junta, as well as the devastating testimony of Adriana Calvo (Laura Paredes), who testifies how, being heavily pregnant, she was imprisoned, submitted to unimaginable torture and even ended up giving birth under inhumane conditions while her captors rejoiced at it. This testimony seems to have a daunting effect on Moreno Ocampo’s extremely religious and Conservative mother, changing her views towards Videla (Marcelo Pozzi), whom she always saw as an admirable, church-going man.
Under the pressure of delivering a guilty verdict, one of the members of Strassera’s team comes to the realization that, to be successful, they need to convince the judges that all these orders were taken into effect under the guise of coercion, cowardice and “a Neronian frame of mind” -as when Roman Emperor Nero gave a thumbs-down, sentencing people to death-. On the day of the closing arguments, Strassera delivers a powerful speech based on this premise and asserting the need to avoid ever returning to this form of unjust and damaging rule, inspired by the previously released report of “NUNCA MAS” (“Never Again”).
A verdict is reached. Videla and his second-in-command, Massera (Joselo Bella), are sentenced to life imprisonment, whereas the rest of the leaders varied from the other highest ones in rank, getting anywhere between 4 and 17 years of imprisonment to the lower-ranking ones being acquitted. Moreno Ocampo does not seem pleased with this resolution since he believed they all deserved to get life in prison, while Strassera sees this as an unprecedented victory; his own family celebrates it and he even gets to share the news with his dying colleague and mentor, “Ruso” (Norman Briski), who was hopeful this would happen.
The film ends showing title cards indicating that this was the first –and to date, only– time in the history of Argentina, and any other country in the world, that a civil trial was conducted against former military rulers with such successful results and, up to present times, Argentina is still a democratic country; we also get to see images of the real historical people and procedures.