Darse cuenta (Becoming Aware) (1984)





Director:     Alejandro Doria.

Starring:     Luis Brandoni (Carlos Ventura), Dora Baret (Delia), Luisina Brando (Susana), Lito Cruz (Marcelo), Oscar Ferrigno (El Profesor), María Vaner (Nora), China Zorrilla (Ágada), Darío Grandinetti (Juan), Fernando Álvarez, Clotilde Borella (Madre Chica Embarazada), Mónica Villa (Gladys).

becoming aware of just how bleak and hard life is under the Argentine military dictatorship, 1976-1983



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary to the entire film. 

Someone is driving a car very erratically.  A mechanic named Marcelo is talking to a customer about his car. His wife asks him for some help loading cakes into the back seat of her car.  A young fellow named Juan helps her load the cakes. The woman asks Juan to get the kids out of the front seat of the car.   He steps into the street and is hit by the erratic driver. 

 A funeral takes place.  One man, named Carlos Ventura, cries at the funeral, but he does not want to be with the other mourners afterwards.   He says he is going to go to work. 

Carlos goes to the hospital.  Other workers at the hospital offer him their condolences. 

There is a long line of people waiting to be helped.  The pregnant woman goes into a room and asks Carlos if he is a doctor?  Her brother Juan has had an accident and nobody in the hospital can tell her where he is.  He tells her to ask about her brother in the Emergency Room.  She shouts that nobody's responsible here. 

An older nurse tells Carlos that there was a big mistake.  A man who came in with appendicitis had his kidney taken out.  And they took the appendix out of the man with the bad kidney. 

The woman finally finds a doctor who knows about her brother.  The doctor tells her that her brother is in a coma.  There's not much hope for him.  Three doctors are with him and they are not optimistic.  Meanwhile, they are going to need to get as much blood as the family can give.  The pregnant woman is exempt from blood giving.  The doctor says they will either have to get the blood or pay for it.  A friend is with the pregnant woman but he had a venereal disease.  Juan's girlfriend, Andrea, says she had hepatitis. 

Marcelo is on the phone saying that he can't leave work now.  He does say he will speak to the neighbors about giving blood for Marcelo's brother-in-law. 

Dr. Ventura goes to the cafeteria.  He asks his son what's wrong and the son says he is fed up and can't go on like this.  He says he is getting new fears.  He then comments:  "This is a bloody awful country, Dad!"  When father and son are alone, the son asks his father why doesn't he divorce his mother?  He says mainly because of economic reasons.  He says he always been paid a pretty lousy salary. 

The son tells Carlos that he is leaving for Spain to be with a friend.  He says he wants to work, but there is no work.  He wants to study at the university but:  "In this country you can't live or think, you can't even have a screw."  Dad has his own problems.  He says:  "My God!  Another death!  Everything's dying around me.  I'm also dying."

The emergency room doctor, Dr. Ferrero, speaks with Carlos about the medical mix-up disaster.  He is interrupted by the pregnant woman.  Ferrero is irritated because he says the family follows him everywhere. 

Carlos goes in to look at Juan in the emergency room.  Everyone of his his ribs has been cracked.  The situation doesn't look good for the patient.  Juan moves his finger of his right hand to touch the doctor's hand on the bed.  This gives Dr. Ventura some hope for the patient.  But when he speaks with Ferrero about it, the man gets very defensive and tells Ventura to mind his own business.   Ventura gets upset and walks away from Ferrero. 

Ventura talks with another one of the doctors involved in Juan's case.  The other doctor says that the patient is a lost cause.  Ventura says all the doctors are becoming too cynical.  So the other doctor finally tells him that if he really wants the case, it's his.   

The pregnant woman, Susana, asks Andrea to visit Juan every day.  She also asks this of her friend Luis.  Susana says she is on her own, because she can't get any help from Marcelo.  Marcelo suddenly shows up.  He excuses his own behavior by saying that the world can't just stop because Susana's brother had a car accident. 

Dr. Ventura comes over and asks for the parents of Juan, but there is only the sister Susana.  So the doctor tells Susana that if she will go to the director of the hospital and ask for Juan's case to be taken over by Dr. Ventura, they will do it.  He says he will really try to save Juan.  The problem is that Susana can't see the director until tomorrow morning.  But, says Ventura, he is going to bypass professional ethics and work on Juan tonight.  Susana is very grateful for the doctor's actions.

A medical professor speaks with Ventura about Juan's case.  He says the older, more experienced doctors probably won't help him with the case unless they get something out of it for themselves.  It would be better for them to seek out some young doctors who desperately want to get more experience.   He also says there is so much work to be done that Ventura can't possibly do it all himself. 

Ventura walks the professor out of the hospital.  He too shares Ventura's belief that the state hospital is an unfeeling bureaucracy and a good doctor can only survive by overlooking all the failures and cover-ups in the hospital.  The bureaucrats threw the professor out of the directorship because he cared too much about the patients and their care and that made him dangerous and not wanted.  This is his final day at the hospital.  They finally told him politely that he had to go.  He tells Ventura:  "You'll have to learn to be sly to get places.  And really go for it.  Do it carefully. Don't let them get wise."

Dr. Ventura comes home late at night.  His son is already in bed in the living room.  His wife tells him that all his cousins and their kids were here after the funeral.  The doctor gets in his pajamas and gets in bed.  He really wants just to go to sleep, but his wife is wide awake now.  He pleads with her for a chance to get some rest.  She goes into the bathroom in order to smoke.  After smoking, she comes back into the bedroom and says to her husband that she needs to work.  She is sick of watching TV all day.  He tells her:  "Do it."  As the banter goes back and forth, their son finally asks can't they even come to a truce on a day like this?  The mother quietly says:  "As if death solved anything."

In the morning, the parents see their son off to Spain.  Dad give his son a hug and a kiss on the head.  Mother kisses his face all over. 

Ventura works with a team to operate on Juan.  After the first operation, one of the nurses asks him why not work on someone else who has a better chance of living than this Juan?  The doctor says:  "I can't condemn anybody to death."

When Ventura and a young doctor come out, the family rushes to them to find out how the operation went.  The young doctor says this was a crucial operation, but this is only the beginning.  Has the family been able to find any blood donors?  No.  Ventura says they have to get some donors. 

Andrea told Susana that she would stay behind at the hospital, but as soon as Marcelo and Susana drive away, she walks out of the hospital. 

A young cleaning woman comes into the emergency room to clean at 6 a.m.  She is surprised to see Ventura still working.  She tells the doctor that his patient is going to make it because he is young and because he has a very good color about him. 

Ventura didn't go home last night and he didn't telephone his wife to tell her.  So the older nurse tells him that his wife sent over to the hospital a huge bag containing his clothes. 

At home Susana is making cakes, but she doesn't feel good.  She cries out in pain. 

Susana and Marcelo are now at the hospital.  She must have lost the baby.  She says it's for the best.  Susana adds that she wishes she would have died.  She has two children at home and a brother who is dying.  Marcelo says she doesn't have to worry about Juan because he's taken care of her brother.  Susana doesn't believe him because all he thinks about is money.  She adds:  "We'll never live better.  You'll always want more."   She sums it up this way:  "I'm fed up!"

The older nurse uses her "charm" to get a doctor to agree to let her have some blood for the patient Juan.  Currently, Juan is still in a coma. 

The young doctor tells Ventura that he is leaving for Canada.  He just got his visa to do so.  He says they say things are better in Canada. 

More bad news for Ventura.  The director complains to him that ". . . we're spending money, work and energy on something almost pointless."  He also says that Ventura is ignoring his wife.  He should make his family his number one priority. 

Ventura is with the pretty nurse that criticized him for spending so much of his time on the patient Juan.  On a bed the two talk while Ventura kisses her neck and then starts taking her robe off.  (Brief nudity.)  She complains that sex for him is like washing his face.  She adds:  "I'm not with you."  Shortly after this statement, he rolls over onto the bed.  They talk some more.  She finally gets up and goes to the bathroom. 

When he goes home, Ventura finds his wife drunk and in a combative mood.  She says that everyone has left her.  That nobody cares about her!  The doctor tells her he cares, but she doesn't seem to believe him. 

Ventura goes over to speak with the older nurse at her place.  She asks him why did he come over and start talking about his wife's drinking problem?  The nurse tells him that she is in favor of suicide for those people who can't stand life.  She likes Ventura a lot.  She remembers when he was just a young doctor.  She was engaged to an anesthetist at the time or she would have gone for him (Ventura).   When she finally realized she didn't really want the anesthetist, Ventura's future wife Nora came along.  And a little later came their son Roberto. 

Ventura says he never knew she was in love with him.  She says she sent him enough signals.  He goes back to his own situation and says he's one of those who is not in love with life.  He feels unmotivated now without the energy to keep going.   They are interrupted again by the nurse's old mother.  The nurse says he should go, so he goes. 

Ventura is back at the hospital.  He goes in to check on Juan.  He talks to the man in a coma.  He says:  "You can't die, kid.  I'm asking you this as a special favor."  Apparently, Juan hears him because he starts haltingly to say the word "please".  Ventura asks him his name and the fellow says:  "Juan."  He says his legs hurt and he can't move them.  The young man wants to know how much longer?  Ventura tells him:  "I've been fighting for your life for 15 days.  Shall we fight together?"  Yes.  He then says his whole body hurts him. 

Marcelo brings the two children to see their mother.  She seems out of it.   She keeps saying that Juan is dead when he is not. 

Ventura operates on Juan again. 

Juan is getting tired of the hospital and the operations.  He says he can't do it anymore, that they are torturing him for no good reason.   He adds that he doesn't want to be a cripple.  The older nurse tells Ventura that Juan feels abandoned by his family and his girl. 

Ventura gets more bad news.  It looks like Nora is going crazy.  She sings while she cuts up pictures of her with her husband. 

Over the television is heard:  "We have reached the government with clean hands and no compromises."  The military has taken over in Argentina.  The older nurse, Agueda, turns off the television.  She goes to the hospital and checks on Juan.  Ventura is sleeping in the bed next to him.  She finds the nurse that broke off her affair with Ventura and they have a drink of champagne.  Agueda asks the younger woman, Delia, why did she come to the hospital tonight?  The woman says to drink for a better year, a better life and a shared life.  She says she couldn't find anybody.  Agueda thinks she came for Ventura.  She says: "He's a great man, Delia.  Perhaps a small great man.  Better than most I know."  She toasts to Ventura.  Delia does not drink, so Agueda tells her:  "Toast for him, you idiot." 

The church bell rings and Ventura awakens.  He sees Delia at the bottom of the bed watching him. 

Ventura feds Juan by hand while they talk.  Juan says he thinks a lot about sex and a lot about his own death.  He asks Ventura to help him die.  He begs the doctor over and over. 

Ventura goes to see the sister and her family.  All he gets is a bunch of insults and claims that he came for a donation for the hospital.  Everyone in the family just assumes that Juan is dead.  Sister scolds the doctor for not telling her what day her brother died. 

Juan gets the cleaning lady talking and she unloads on him about how difficult life is, how she is now afraid of her husband and doesn't love him any more and how her kids are just hanging around in the streets. 

Ventura is trying to do some physical therapy with Juan, but he sure is uncooperative.  He complains way too much.  Delia comes in and watches what's going on.  After awhile, she helps Ventura work on the patient. 

Now Juan is in a wheel chair.  Ventura has brought him to work with the parallel bars in trying to walk.   Delia is with him again.  Ventura has to scream at Juan to get him to cooperate. 

The hospital director tells a journalist that they have had to reduce everything in the hospital to a minimum.  As the two tour the hospital with some other doctors and a cameraman, they hear Ventura screaming at Juan and Juan screaming:  "I hope you die, doctor!"  They all go in for a look.  After awhile, the cameraman starts snapping photos of Juan not walking, just complaining and complaining.  Ventura warns Juan that if he lets himself fall on his face, he will never help him again.  Finally, Juan just falls nearly on his face.  Ventura walks away from him. 

Ventura goes to visit his wife.  Nora tells him that he got a letter from Roberto.  And she's working again.  She does some accounting for two hairdressers.  And sometimes she even does a client's hair.  She says she went through a terrible period, but now she is much better.  He starts reading the letter.  Roberto says that he met a young physician that worked with him at the hospital.  The fellow really admires his dad and thinks he's just great.  That got him thinking about his father.  It goes on, but we don't get to hear it all. Dad thinks about his son, but also about Juan. 

Ventura returns to the hospital.  Agueda and Delia bring him over to physical therapy to show him that Juan walks with the help of one crutch.  Juan holds out his right hand for the doctor to take it.  He drops his crutch and then slowly slides his feet forward one at a time. He then falls into the doctor's welcoming arms. 


Life has been hard for the Argentines.  They had to deal with Argentine fascism and the Perons with their corrupt government.   Not long after that they had to deal with the military dictatorship, 1976-1983. 
And even later the Argentines fell on bad times because of an economic slow down of their country.  As if life under the dictatorships wasn't bad enough.  Life at the state hospital under the military dictatorship is very bleak.  Financially, there is very little money and the doctors don't get paid much.  At work there's not enough supplies and equipment, so the care is sometimes necessarily not very good.  Then the doctors have become very cynical and kind of indifferent to the suffering of their patients, because they can't even give them good treatment because of all the lack of resources.  It's really bleak.  This has been making one doctor, Carlos Ventura, very down and a bit out of it. 

The terrible situation at the hospital is revealed when his colleagues say they are not going to work anymore on a young man named Juan.  Ventura goes over to visit Juan.  Juan gives him the impression that he definitely wants to live (Juan grabbed his hand) and is willing to fight for his life.  Ventura intervenes in another doctor's business.  He helps Juan's family and then he tries to take over the patient Juan.  Ventura meets a lot of resistance because it makes the other doctors feel a bit bad for giving up on Juan.  Ventura persists nevertheless.  A really good relationship starts between patient and doctor and Ventura goes beyond the call of duty to save the young man. 

Good story and a good depiction of the bleakness of Argentina under their military dictatorship. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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