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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 03-12-2022 05:49

'Argentina, 1985' revisited

The column in the October 22 edition of this newspaper was headlined “1985, the year behind the film.” That column sought to fill in everything about that year except the juntas trial forming the subject of that highly successful film then still in its first month for the very simple reason that I had not yet seen it – the Austral Plan against inflation that winter and the midterm victory the following spring preceded by a somewhat contrived (in my opinion) state of siege while adding some regional context (both Brazil and Uruguay returned to democracy that same year), none of all that unimportant even if it was the trial which enshrined that year in history. But now that I have actually seen it (albeit at home and not on a cinema screen), here goes a column solely looking at that film, even if somewhat belatedly.

Prior to seeing it, I volunteered the opinion in that October column: “It seems to me from its momentous subject that it would be almost impossible to criticise even if it were a bad film and all the indications are that it is very good.” Having now seen it, I see nothing essentially to change in that prejudgement – it is a good, even great film.

Good but not perfect (the perfect is the enemy of the good, it is said). My differences with the film stemming from personal memories then working in the Buenos Aires Herald newsroom (which gave extended coverage to the trial while not a patch on Perfil’s Diario del Juicio) in no way challenge the core message and do not follow the lines of perhaps the film’s most vehement critic, the opposition deputy Fernando Iglesias. The latter bemoans a lost opportunity to bash Peronism – the failure to explain the seeds of state terrorism in the 1973-1976 Peronist presidencies with the 1983 Peronist presidential candidate Italo Argentino Luder campaigning on the basis of accepting the military self-amnesty regarding human rights violations.

These are valid points (even if it is not entirely fair to accuse the film of airbrushing them since Luder’s trial testimony implying most of them is shown) and to them may be added the late Mothers of Plaza de Mayo leader Hebe de Bonafini (the subject of last Saturday’s column) rubbishing the trial as “bourgeois justice.” Yet if the film had descended to scoring political points in this fashion, it would have lost the grandeur and the essential value of its central message. Furthermore, while perhaps letting Peronism off the hook in some respects, the sheer fact of a film portraying the 1985 juntas trial serves to demolish perhaps the most offensive falsehood infecting many of the Kirchnerised human rights movements of this century – that nothing was done to seek justice for state terrorism until the coup anniversary of March 24, 2004, when then-President Néstor Kirchner ordered the portraits of the “genocide” junta presidents to be taken down from the walls of the military academy and begged pardon for the inaction of democratic governments until that date.

Where I would perhaps most beg to differ from the film is the image conveyed of Luis Moreno Ocampo’s heroic group of offbeat youths swimming against the tide of an ignorant where not indifferent society with a powerful military machine lurking behind the scenes. I have a different impression (which might or might not be accurate) based on the personal experience of an Englishman emigrating here in 1982 of all years. Far from being identified as the South Atlantic war enemy, as I feared, I found the rage of almost everybody I met concentrated against a military regime in full retreat – because of that lost war but also because of foreign debt irresponsibility and the slaughter which went on trial in 1985. The dictatorship had its tail between its legs and the election date of April, 1984 at the time of my arrival was brought forward to October, 1983, such was the haste to end the misery – the absolute majority won by the Radical Raúl Alfonsín in that vote attests to the groundswell against the military. So much so that the trial could only end the way it did as the triumph of a nation, not a bunch of youthful rebels.

This film gives the trial its deserved place in history at the expense of the equally deserving CONADEP truth commission. Santiago Mitre’s masterpiece lays insufficient stress on how much the trial owed CONADEP even if it shows Moreno Ocampo’s team selecting and editing several hundred cases from the almost 9,000 instances of human rights violations exhaustively compiled by CONADEP rather than doing all the work themselves – the latter impression is often given, however, and that would be my main criticism.

Otherwise any complaints are secondary even if the character assassination handed out to Alfonsín’s Interior Minister Antonio Tróccoli (1925-1995) goes beyond a minor blemish – Tróccoli might have backed Alfonsín’s primary rivals within Radicalism but carried out his part of the drive to consolidate democracy dutifully enough. The film also has a few anachronisms from these Kirchnerite decades – this columnist does not remember such frequent use of the term “facho” from those times and nor was the figure of 30,000 missing in general circulation with the CONADEP total of 8,960 the usual benchmark. But why this fetishism about a number – 3,000, not 30,000 went missing under Chile’s Augusto Pinochet but would any normal person consider Pinochet a good guy or a softie or those disappearances any less of a crime?

Anyway, in conclusion, Argentina, 1985 is a great film and a must see. On an entirely different tack, might 'Argentina, 1986' be a sequel if the World Cup continues to go so well?

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys, who first entered the Buenos Aires Herald in 1983, held various editorial posts at the newspaper from 1990 and was the lead writer of the publication’s editorials from 1987 until 2017.


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