Santiago Mitre | 2hr 20min
By the time Argentina, 1985 starts, the nation’s civil-military dictatorship has already been deposed, and yet the odds are still stacked against public prosecutor Julio Strassera. Senior attorneys are wary of joining him in his efforts given the risk it would pose to their careers and families, thereby leaving him to approach predominantly young, inexperienced law graduates. On top of that, there is good reason for those safety concerns – his own children are made the target of several anonymous death threats, revealing the extent to which fascism still has its hooks in the culture at large.
Argentina, 1985 owes a lot to Hollywood’s 1970s political dramas in its suspenseful, high-stakes reckoning with an entire nation’s deep-seated corruption. Santiago Mitre is at the helm as director here, revealing a confidence in his storytelling and editing that reflects on this historical event as the first time any military dictatorship was convicted by law. As such, there is a concerted effort in this film to reframe Argentina’s political legacy, certainly accepting the failings of a historically oppressive government, though also emphasising the even greater significance of the democratic victory which overcame that tyranny.
On the first day of what would become known as the Trial of the Juntas, a bomb threat is called in which Strassera promptly dismisses as an attempt to postpone the tribunal. Nevertheless, his deputy prosecutor, Luis Ocampo, remains on edge. A briefcase that a spectator in the gallery suspiciously leaves behind catches his eye, and as formal proceedings continue in the background, Mitre’s camera suspensefully lingers on this tiny, potentially dangerous disruption. Eventually this tension is dispelled with a bang on a table sounding uneasily like a bomb, though our relief can only last so long before paranoia starts trickling back in. Argentina, 1985 never quite releases us from its anxiety-inducing grip until its end, leaving a lot of room to wade through the harrowing testimonies of those who suffered under the dictatorial National Reorganization Process.
In total, there are eight hundred witnesses who come forward with personal stories of persecution, introduced by a long take that Mitre skilfully tracks into the courtroom as the first of them takes the stand. Each story is utterly gut-wrenching in its own way, delivered with pathos by actors who rarely get more than few minutes of screen time, yet who still leave their mark. One woman recounts how she gave birth while captive and was immediately tortured after, leaving her to forcibly neglect her baby. Another tells of loved ones who disappeared without warning, and another still recalls watching their family killed in horrific manners. Mitre hangs on these testimonies long enough to let them land with impact, and yet his narrative also keeps propelling forward through montages of superimposed phone calls, newspapers, and archival footage linking it all back to a very real history and its immense scope.
Decades on, “Nunca más” is the phrase from this court case which would stand strongest in the memory of the public – “Never again.” It punctuates the end of Strassera’s closing argument as an assertion of Argentina’s steadfast unity against repeating past tragedies, and is imbued with passionate resolution in Ricardo Darín’s heartfelt delivery. Mitre takes creative liberties in dramatising these events, and yet the sincerity of his direction never wavers, imbuing it into every detail of production from his convincing ensemble to his authentic period décor. From this forthright compassion emerges a fresh, democratic hope for Argentina, striking a fine balance in its rumination over both the nation’s horrific failings and the strength of those who condemned them to history books.
Argentina, 1985 is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.