Imagining Argentina (2003) 



Director:  Christopher Hampton.

Starring:  Irene Escolar (Eurydice), Fernando Tielve (Orfeo/Enrico), Hector Bordoni (Pedro Augustn),  Antonio Banderas (Carlos Rueda), Emma Thompson (Cecilia Rueda), Maria Canals (Esme Palomares), Rubn Blades (Silvio Ayala), Leticia Dolera (Teresa Rueda), Luis Antonio Ramos (Policeman 2), Carlos Kaniowsky (Rubn Mendoza), Stella Maris (Concepta Madrid), Concha Hidalgo (Octavio Marquez's Grandmother), Ana Gracia (Hannah Masson), Horacio Obn (Victor Madrid), Amparo Valle (Julia Obregon's Mother).

the "disappeared" in Argentina


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

1983.  The Argentinean dictatorship has fallen.  Now the government is saying that the Argentine people should not look back.  They want the past to disappear.  But children's theatre director, Carlos Rueda, is not willing to forget the past.  He has suffered too much to forget what the military did to him and the many thousands more. 

Buenos Aires, 1976.  Cecilia Rueda, the wife of Carlos, is kidnapped by the military dictatorship.  The gardener Pedro sees the whole thing.  When Carlos returns home Cecilia is not there.  He finds her glasses on the floor.  His daughter Teresa comes home and wants to know where is her mother.  Carlos, Teresa and Pedro report Cecilia's disappearance to the police.  The police try to minimize the event or say that maybe Cecilia just left of her own free will.  In addition, they intimidate Pedro into not being so sure of what actually happened. 

Flashback in a flashback.  The journalist Cecilia writes an article criticizing the government in regard to the many people who have simply disappeared.  Carlos does not want her to publish it because he thinks it is too provocative and would place her in great danger.  She says that she has to publish it.  Too many terrible things have been occurring in Argentina.  She illustrates her point by bring up the situation of the school children who simply disappeared when they protested the bus fares.  A few mothers of the "disappeared" start a protest in front of the Casa Rosario (Pink House), the government house.  Over time this grows into a continuous large demonstration by the relatives of the "disappeared". 

Back to the first flashback.  It has been eight weeks since the disappearance of Cecilia Rueda.  Carlos puts up posters in an attempt to find his wife, but he does not get any leads.  At the children's theatre, Enrico, the young star in the play, tells Carlos that he cannot perform in the play anymore.  Carlos seems to know that the government has taken his father.  He tells Enrico that his father will be returned after the military make him promise to never criticize the government again.  The technical director of the theatre, Silvio, scolds Carlos for saying such a thing to Enrico for he has no way of knowing what actually happened to the boy's father.  But the promised scenario actually takes place.  Carols says it is a coincidence, but his young assistant Esme knowd that it was no accident.  It seems that Carlos has some psychic abilities. 

Carlos asks the women protesting to come to his house in the evening.  There, after a false start, he is able to tell some of the women what has happened to their missing relatives.  Some are happy to learn their relative(s) are still alive, while others are devastated when Carlos tells them that their relative(s) have been killed.  Carlos's daughter, anxious to know about her mother, asks her father about the fate of her mother.  He tells her that he sees her escape from the military, running away from her prison and then being caught.  But she is still alive.  Carlos later hears a foghorn and figures that his wife is being kept down by the docks somewhere.  He drives out there and finds what he saw in his visions.  He investigates the area and learns that his wife has been tortured there, but then the trail goes cold. 

There have been 2,000 recorded disappearances and the relatives of the "disappeared" meet in a church to make demands on the government for action on the matter.  While the demands are being discussed, armed government agents rush into the church and capture nine women, including two nuns.  Outraged, Carlos goes to see General Guzman.  He actually gets to see the man who tells him that he will look into the situation personally.  Guzman blames the problem of the "disappeared" on leftist terrorists.  Carlos is a little surprised when the General lets him know that he knows about the psychic meetings with the relatives of the "disappeared". 

Carlos drives out to the Pampas to see if he can find out more about the "disappeared" who have been killed and buried in the region.  He meets a German Jewish couple, survivors of Auschwitz.  They give him the name of their son who is a silversmith in Buenos Aires.  Carlos continues his search in the Pampas and comes across an owl he saw in his visions.  He thinks his wife is nearby, but again the trail goes cold.  Cecilia is nearby.  She is being raped by her prison guards. 

Back at the psychic meetings, Carlos is able to see in his visionsl that the young man Gustavo is not a relative of a "disappeared" person but a spy for the government.  The people at the meeting want to tear Gustavo apart, but Carlos lets the man leave.  Government agents grab Teresa and beat up Carlos.  They throw Teresa into the cell with her mother.  Later the girl is raped. 

Carlos sneaks out of the hospital and follows General Guzman's car to his house.  He thinks about shooting Guzman with a rifle, but when he sees the man's daughter greet the General, he decides not to kill him.  Instead Carlos puts on a play criticizing the military government.  He wants government agents to grab him, but instead they grab, torture and then kill Silvio. 

While visiting the silversmith, Carlos has another vision.  He realizes that his wife is still alive.  The spy Gustavo, who Carlos spared, rapes Teresa and then tortures her.  When he tires of her he turns her over to be raped by one of the prison guards.  He tries to make Cecilia choose the rapist, but she refuses to cooperate.  Later Teresa, along with some other young ladies, are taken outside and machine gunned to death. 

Cecilia plots another escape.  She lures her smallish jailer into her cell with the promise of sex and then strangles him to death with wire taken from her bed frame.  She then escapes from the prison.  As she proceeds, she runs into two men who she fears are working for the prison. 

The military start emptying their jails as they realize their days are numbered.  They also bury any unburied bodies and burn all evidence of their killing machine. 

Carlos sees a truck with the owl insignia from his visions.  He confronts the truck drivers, but they point and tell him to look up.  Carlos sees his wife on an outside stairs.  She shouts down to him.  They run to each other and embrace. 

The military dictatorship in Argentina between the years 1976 and 1983 were responsible for the "disappearance" of some 30,000 men, women and children.  The film makes the point that this is not just an Argentine problem.  From Amnesty International statistics, the film presents the number of disappeared in a dozen countries and then mentions more countries but without accompanying statistics.  The Congo had 55,000 disappeared, and tiny Guatemala had 50,000. 


A pretty good movie.  I did not care for the use of the psychic angle.  No psychic could be that accurate in his or her visions.  There was a lot of emphasis on the rapes of Cecilia and her daughter Teresa.  Two scenes would have been enough to make the point, but we had to suffer through many more scenes than that.  That was a bit hard to take.  There are other movies dealing with the problem of the "disappeared" that are better. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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