The passion for football and the provocations in this area arising from our geographical proximity are not the only elements that have united Brazilians and Argentines in recent centuries. From a distance, we even seem very different – the colonization, the language, the cuisine… – but the blood unites us, the blood shed by the official powers during the military dictatorships which devastated the two countries in the last century.
And it is on the end of this dark period that the film focuses. Argentina, 1985of the principal Santiago Miter and published worldwide by First video. More precisely on the judgment which put the main commanders of the Argentine military regime in the dock. On the agenda, the responsibility, direct or indirect, of these soldiers in the torture and death of opponents of the regime. It is estimated that between 1976 and 1983, up to 30,000 people died in the basements of Latin America’s most bloodthirsty dictatorship.
The premise seems dry: how can a film interestingly discuss a difficult trial that lasted for months and without all the spectacularity and almost theatrical performances that we are used to seeing in the United States (and its movies)? To use the whole tradition of Argentine cinematographic art to remind the world, and in particular in Brazil, of the importance of transitional justice.
The history of the country, nearly forty years ago, had already shown clearly that we cannot move forward without the atrocities of the past being judged. But Argentina, 1985 comes at a time when the film almost sounds like a direct message about what has happened in Brazil in recent years. Here, no general has been tried, almost all perpetrators of state crimes have been granted amnesty, and since then every civilian government has followed with some level of tutelage from the military powers. For this reason, even today, the same military powers feel like the so-called “moderating force” of our democracy.
Now Brazil can look back on its past and have the chance to complete transitional justice, even if it is late. It is not possible to disconnect the attacks suffered on Brazilian democracy that culminated on January 8, 2023 from the absence of judgment at the end of the military dictatorship. If once again the crimes committed, supported or encouraged by the military go unpunished, our democratic regime will always be in danger.
I quote the final speech of the prosecutor Julio Strasseraprotagonist of the film lived by the ubiquitous Ricardo Darin, and it fits perfectly here. “This judgment and the sentence that I propose aim to establish a peace based not on forgetting but on memory. Not in violence, but in justice. This is our chance. It may be the last. Your Honours, I expressly want to waive any claim of originality for this conclusion. I want to use a quote that does not belong to me, because it already belongs to all the Argentine people. Judges: “Never again”.”
With forgiveness for the slight spoiler (after all, it’s in the history books), even though all of the defendants shown in the film walked out of court to jail, the end result was exemplary so that Argentines wouldn’t never again worried about the risks of certain military power taking command of the country during a new coup d’etat.
It sounds almost cliché or repetitive to exalt Ricardo Darín’s talent and power on stage. Only he could bring to life a character who in real life could not be considered exactly charismatic (as videos and reports of the time show). The actor managed to create an aura of a modern quixotic hero, in a situation where few would have guessed his success. For a long time, even Mr. Strassera did not believe him; the film makes it clear that he fled, as best he could, not to get into this feud.
The moral of this story is that in big clashes like this, there is no single hero. Although Julio Strassera was the face of this trial, he made it clear at all times that he only got there through teamwork, both during the investigation and evidence collection and during writing the final speech that put many Argentine dictators behind bars. The prosecutor character created by Darín has the power to inspire generations.
But the film doesn’t just survive Darín’s aura. The storyline manages to create an arc of tension on top of this near-impossible mission, highlighting Strassera’s difficulty in building a support team – having to bring in young lawyers without their tails being tied to the system – going through all the threats he, his family and his senior assistant, Luis Moreno Ocampo (Pierre Lanzani), suffered throughout the process. As far as we know the end result, the feature becomes almost a thriller.
But the culmination of the drama lies in the moving testimonies of relatives of the disappeared and victims of torture, which serve to highlight all the barbarism practiced. In the end, in the film as in real life, these replies weigh heavily in the outcome of the trial, since with them the prosecutors finally manage to rally public opinion on their side.
In a film that exposes the worst that can come out of the hands of man, there is also a sense of hope in justice. What Argentina, 1985 leave as a legacy the eternal memory of “Neverby Julio Strassera.
Direction: Santiago Miter
Discard: Peter Lanzani, Ricardo Darin