Sunday, April 28, 2013

Are You My Mother?

Film: La Historia Oficial(The Official Story)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Any time a foreign language film gets nominated for something in addition to Best Foreign Feature, it’s pretty much a lock to win that category. La Historia Oficial (The Official Story) was nominated for its screenplay, so it’s no real shock that it won for Foreign Feature, is it? But even were it not nominated for screenplay, it would have had a better than average shot at the award. This is the sort of film that Oscar loves to give statues to. It’s a real, human drama, it deals with oppression and guilt, and it’s the sort of story that is moving regardless of how aware the audience is of political realities in Argentina.

Alicia (Norma Aleandro) and her husband Roberto (Hector Alterio) are a well-to-do family of three with their daughter Gaby (Analia Castro). They are well enough off that they have help around the house. Roberto is some sort of business executive or consultant and Alicia is a history teacher. We learn a few important things right away. First, Gaby is adopted. Second, there is some repression of information happening in the country, because even in class, Alicia is not too pleased with the more liberal, rebellious comments that pop up from a few of her students. They’re a relatively happy family despite Roberto’s frequent absences on business.

Gaby’s adoption is central to the story. As the story opens, Alicia is starting to wonder about Gaby’s birth mother. This is against the instructions she has gotten from her husband, who has told her that part of the adoption agreement is that she will not seek out the child’s mother. But Alicia wonders just the same. Her musings become far more serious with the arrival of her old friend Ana (Chunchuna Villafane) returns to Argentina. Ana has been in exile, and eventually, she confides everything that happened—the brutalization, torture, and rape—to Alicia. Most importantly, she tells her that she was not alone in prison. There were other women there, some pregnant, and the locations of those children is unknown.

Alicia is smart enough to put two and two together, and realizes that there is a good chance that Gaby is the child of one of the missing. She begins to search and eventually encounters Sara (Chela Ruiz), who tells her of her son and daughter-in-law who have been missing for years. Through comparing of records and old pictures, it’s evident that Gaby may well be the child of this missing couple, and thus Sara’s granddaughter. It also becomes evident that Roberto not only knows exactly how Gaby came to be his child, but that he was more than complicit in everything the military government did in suppressing the population and carting off people into the night.

Like I said, this is exactly the sort of film that Oscar loves to give statues to, provided the film is good enough to make the grade. Fortunately for everyone, La Histoira Oficial is absolutely good enough. It’s an immediately compelling story, and it becomes more and more involving at each stage. One of the more interesting moments comes when Alicia goes to confession and is unable to gain any additional information despite knowing that the priest was with her husband at the hospital. The minute she begins to probe for information, he immediately absolves her of all of her sins, not even giving her any penance.

I am certain that I would find this film even more gripping if I were more familiar with the historical situation in Argentina. Even without that prior knowledge (or post-knowledge, really), this is still a compelling story simply because of what it is. While fictional, it’s a smart enough screenplay to be completely believable. What I mean is that there aren’t any easy solutions to anything, and no one is a character from a melodrama. Even Roberto, who is motivated entirely by greed and fear, truly loves his daughter.

This is not an easy film to watch, but it’s difficult not to watch once it’s started. I was a good halfway through when my wife walked in. I paused the film and caught her up, and she stayed to the end. She doesn’t think I knew she watched, but I could tell. It’s not that difficult to know that she’s paying attention when she’s sitting with her tablet on her lap and doesn’t do anything on it for ten minutes at a time.

With all of this said, I’m not sure what else to say. In a lot of ways, La Historia Oficial plays something like a movie of the week were it not for the seriousness of the story. It’s emotional and difficult, but very much worth your time.

Why to watch La Historia Oficial: A real story that deserves to be told.
Why not to watch: This is not a happy film.


  1. Good review. Like you, I liked this movie quite a bit. There is an entire generation of "disappeared" in that country, so it must have had a huge effect when the movie came out.

    1. Oh, I forgot to ask about the "Are You My Mother" title. You're a few years younger than me. When I was little I had a child's book titled "Are You My Mother?" where a baby bird walks around asking all kinds of different animals if they are his mother. Was your title a really obscure reference to this children's book?

    2. Indeed, I was referencing the baby bird. Nice catch!

      I'm not sure why I found this more shocking or surprising because it was Argentina. I know they don't have a great history of human rights, but it seems oddly close to home.