The Official Story

The Official Story


Reviewed by: Gary Duncan

This heartbreaking story, set in Buenos Aires in 1983 during the last days of a brutal military dictatorship, won an Oscar for Best Foreign Picture in 1985.

Norma Aleandro plays Alicia, a history teacher whose comfortable middle-class life slowly unravels after she meets up with an old friend at a high-school reunion. Ana (Chunchuna Villafane), an exile who was forced to leave the country after being tortured by the government, tells Alicia that the children of the "missing" are being snatched at birth from their parents and sold back into society. A shaken Alicia immediately begins to wonder about her own adopted daughter, five-year-old Gaby (Analia Castro), and what happened to Gaby's parents.

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She questions her husband Roberto (Hector Alterio), a successful lawyer, about the adoption, but he tries to fob her off. She talks to her priest but he, too, tries to dissuade her. Undaunted, Alicia is forced to continue her quest at the local records office.

In one particularly moving scene, she is approached by an old woman, Sara (Chela Ruiz), who claims to be Gaby's grandmother. The little girl's real parents were among the missing, Sara claims, but her reasons for tracking down Alicia are not motivated by revenge. She doesn't demand to see Gaby or threaten to take her back in an attempt to heal the wounds of the last five years. We don't even know if Sara is really who she says she is - she might be Gaby's grandmother, she might not be - but it doesn't matter because she speaks for everyone who ever lost anyone and Alicia feels her pain, one woman to another.

Roberto isn't so sympathetic, but he has more to hide. We see him rubbing shoulders with shady acquaintances, taking frantic late-night phone calls and jetting off on dubious "business" trips. He might be rich and successful, but you know he's had to deal with the devil to get there. He explodes when Alicia brings Sara back to the house and dismisses the old woman as a "bag lady", a trouble maker who should be locked up with all the other mothers and grandmothers and "families of the missing" he sees demonstrating on the city's streets.

Alicia takes a while to see through him, but her fears are confirmed when the conversation turns to Ana. Roberto says she got what she deserved because her partner Pedro was a "subversive". Before he realises what he's said, it's too late, and Alicia is on to him. How did he know about Pedro? What else did he know about Ana and her ordeal at the hands of the government enforcers? Just who are his friends and what else is he hiding?

You wonder how Alicia could be so naive and why it has taken her so long to wake up to what has been happening around her. She's an intelligent woman, a history teacher, but she doesn't seem to grasp the significance of the historic events taking place before her eyes.

Aleandro beautifully captures Alicia's sense of loss as everything around her falls apart. Alicia is a woman of few emotions and Aleandro reflects this with a wonderfully restrained performance. More often than not it's what she doesn't do that really catches the eye. She sits in silence as Sara unloads her story. She doesn't say anything, but she doesn't have to. Alicia is broken and you can see it in Aleandro's eyes.

Reviewed on: 19 Apr 2005
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A mother begins to question her own family after coming to suspect her adopted daughter was stolen from her real parents.
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Director: Luis Puenzo

Writer: AĆ­da Bortnik, Luis Puenzo

Starring: Norma Aleandro, Héctor Alterio, Chunchuna Villafañe, Analia Castro

Year: 1985

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Argentina


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