Kamchatka (2002)





Director:     Marcelo Pieyro.

Starring:     Ricardo Darn  (Dad),  Cecilia Roth (Madre),  Hctor Alterio  (Grandfather),  Fernanda Mistral  (Grandmother),  Toms Fonzi  (Lucas),  Mnica Scapparone  (Bertuccio's Mother),  Milton De La Canal (Simon / El Enano / Tiny),  Matas Del Pozo (Harry), Evelyn Domnguez  (Nia Morena),  Leticia Brdice (Teacher),  Nicols Cantafio  (Bertuccio), Gabriel Galndez (Military Guard),  Maria Socas (Mom's Friend),  Juan Carrasco (Priest),  Demin Bugallo (School Mate).

a family hiding from the government in rural Argentina


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

A young boy narrates the story.  His name is Lucas.  He says the last time he saw his father, he set him down and told him some facts about life in Argentina. And his story ends in Kamchatka. 

Fall, 1976.  Days after Argentina's military coup.  In biology class Lucas's mother comes and gets him.  He says goodbye to his friend and runs to catch up with mother who waits for him in the car.  Also in the car is Lucas's brother.  Lucas asks where they are going and mom just says they are going to a friend's house.  He keeps asking her questions, so she tells him that they are going on a trip.  Lucas wants to be dropped off and be picked up later at his friend's place.  No, says mother.  Now she is in line to go through a military check point.  She is very nervous, but is allowed to go straight through the checkpoint.  The military grabs the man in the car behind her and forces him to lean against the car, with his feet spread and with his hand on the side of the car. 

At the home of the friend, Lucas listens into their conversation.  Mom is saying that her husband told her on the phone that the military had searched his law office and kidnapped his partner Roberto.  When mom's friend sees Lucas listening, she stops and stares at him.  Mother asks him what does he want?  Lucas asks where is the bathroom?

At night Lucas's father comes to see him in the bedroom.  Lucas suddenly asks what happened to Roberto?  Dad fumbles for words.  The boy says:  "They took him away, right?"   But since dad is a lawyer, the boy reasons, he will get Roberto out.  Lucas is worried that his father will be suddenly taken away.  Dad says nothing is going happen to him.  He says they are going to his house in the suburbs and it even has a swimming pool.   Lucas asks if his friend can come with them.  Dad says that they don't want to drag his friend into their mess. 

The next morning everyone gets into the car.  They stop briefly for some supplies.  At their house in the suburbs, dad tells mom to drive the car around to the back of the house so no one will see it.  In the backyard, dad shows the two boys where they are to hide and lay absolutely flat on the ground when mom or dad call for action.  The boys practice plunging into the bushes behind the house. 

Lucas tells his father that somebody lent this house to him, right?.  Dad says yes, but it is a friend of a friend who he doesn't know.  Later Lucas examines his empty bedroom.  He climbs up to the top of the closet shelves and finds a book there about the magician Houdini.  In the book Lucas learns that Houdini was not a magician, but an escapist.  The man had to stay in top physical condition and he could stay under water for four minutes. 

At dinner mom says that they are going to stay in this house for awhile.  The boys say its too boring, because they have none of their toys with them.  She is a chemist and will still go in to work, but dad and the boys will stay home.  And there are to be no phone calls.  In fact, the are not even to answer the phone.  This makes Lucas sulk a bit in his chair.  And now they are all to get new names.  From now on they are the Vincente family.  Dad is David and is an architect and Lucas will be Harry. 

The next day Lucas discovers that his little brother wet the bed.  

The news on the television.  A government minister denies that anyone on a certain list is not being held in prison or elsewhere.  The President of Argentina, General Jorge Rafael Videla, says that they will defeat the rebels.  Dad gets so disgusted, he turns off the television.  He goes outside to chop some wood.  Harry comes out and dad quizzes him on what Lucas is to say if asked who are his parents and other related questions.  Harry keeps forgetting parts of the answers prepared for him.  Dad scolds Harry by telling him he told Harry the scenario a million times. 

At night mom tells Harry that a young lad is coming to stay with them for a little while.  She also asks Harry to help her keep his brother calmed down.  Changes upset him.  Harry says he will help her. 

The next day the boys put a board into the water of the swimming pool, so the frogs will have a place to sit on.   The new boy arrives with mom.  The fellow meets the husband and then the two boys, Harry and Simon.  The guest's name is Lucas.  Harry doesn't like the young fellow being with them so he tells his brother Simon that the guy is a cop or, maybe, even an alien invader. 

The parents take a trip in the car, leaving their son in the house with Lucas.  Simon likes Lucas, but Harry won't even let him read one of his comic books.  When the parents return home they bring some items from their place back for the kids.  Dad and Lucas play a board game referred to as TEG, where their respective armies try to take control of the world country by country.  Dad usually wins. 

Simon is still wetting the bed.  Harry gets up and looks at the wallet of Lucas.  He finds a photo of a pretty girl inside.  The next day Harry starts training physically to be like Houdini. 

The parents enroll the boys in a Catholic school.  The priest assures the parents that the boys will not be listed in any of the school records.  Harry doesn't like having to go to a new school.  He tells his mother that he doesn't need to make new friends.  He already has friends, but says mom won't let him see them. 

At dinner Harry still has a chip on his shoulder.  When Lucas comes in to eat, Harry leaves the table.  He goes outside and runs back and forth for awhile.  Lucas comes out and starts jogging.  He comes back and gives Harry some pointers on how best to run and invites Harry to run with him.  Harry takes him up on the offer.  The two fellows start talking to each other now.  When they come back to the house the rest of the family is dancing in the living room to music on the stereo. 

Mom leaves dad and dances with Lucas, while dad dances with Harry.  The music gets faster and faster and then slower and slower.  In bed at night Harry asks Lucas all kinds of questions about himself, but Lucas keeps saying the less he knows about him, the better it will be for Harry.  He does tell Harry that he is away from home because he is trying to save the world. 

The next day Harry finds his mother back home early from work.  He asks her why?  She explains that she was fired from the laboratory. 

On another day, Harry decides to phone his old friend from his former school. He phones, but only listens to his friend's voice on the phone.  Lucas sees Harry on the phone.  Harry asks Lucas if he ever feels like calling his friends on the phone.  Lucas says, of course, but he won't because Lucas is a fugitive and doesn't want to place his friends in any danger.  He goes on to say that Harry and his family are all that he has now.  Harry then asks what if his father and mother never return? 

Mom tells the boys that they are going to go to Grandpa's birthday celebration.  They boys get all excited. 

Mom tells Harry she has to go into the office.  She was fired from the lab, but she has other work to do. 

The family gets in the car to go to grandpa's house.  The grandparents are very glad to see the boys and their parents.  Grandpa shows Harry how to switch gears on the tractor.  He asks his grandson a lot of questions and learns how much the family situation has changed.  Grandpa gets upset and becomes very concerned for his son's family.  Harry asks grandpa that for this one time, don't fight.  Harry now goes to talk with his grandmother.  Still later he talks with his father.  While walking amongst the reeds, Harry finds an injured  pigeon stuck on some barbed wire.  Dad tries to free the bird, but it dies.  In the process his hands get ripped up and bloody.  Harry gets some antiseptic and pours it over dad's hands. Dad tells Harry that they can't stay at grandfather's house. 

The birthday party starts.  Late at night dad listens to the radio in grandpa's pick-up truck down by the lake.  An American tune starts playing.  His wife comes out.  They kiss and hug.  A little later the entire family watch the night skies for shooting stars. 

It is night when the family gets back and see Lucas again.  Lucas tells Harry that he is going away for good this time.  Harry asks why, but Lucas can't tell him why.  Lucas does ask aren't they friends?  But Harry says:  "What for?  We'll never see each other again."  Lucas leaves.  As the car pulls away Harry runs after it shouting:  "Lucas!  Lucas!"

Lucas tells Simon to tell the teachers that he is ill.  And then pretend to mom and dad that they both went to school and then Simon didn't see his brother after that.  Harry now walks over to the railway station and buys a ticket for Buenos Aires.  Harry suddenly just shows up at his friend's house.  The friend's mother is not happy to see him.  She tells Lucas that her son is over at his aunt's house.  Harry turns and leaves.  Late at night Harry arrives home late.  Simon sees him first and shouts out the announcement.  His mother runs to Harry, starts crying and gives him a big hug. 

Dad and Harry now play another game of TEG.  Soon Harry is trouncing his father.  Dad's armies now only hold Kamchatka and Harry has Kamchatka surrounded.  Harry was certain of winning, but he just couldn't finish dad off in Kamchatka.  Harry falls asleep before the game finishes. 

The next morning dad and mom call for action.  They rush to get into the car and away they go.  They virtually leave everything behind, including Harry's Houdini book.  Dad stops to make a telephone call, but looks discouraged when the conversation ends.  He tells his wife that the military got Oscar.  Mom asks now what are they going to do?  They go eat.  In the park dad makes another telephone call.  And again he looks very discouraged.

The family goes back to their house.  The place is extremely messy.  Obviously, the military has been here and thoroughly searched the place, leaving a big mess behind them.  Mother is very afraid that she will never see her children again.  She cries and her husband holds her tight.  Harry hears his mother crying and feels sad.  At night the whole family sleeps in one bed.   

The family is on the go again in their car.  They stop along the road at a relatively isolated place. It looks like a truck stop.  Inside the cafe is grandfather.  They greet each other.  Mom and Simon are still in the car. Dad starts to become emotional as he realizes he is going to be leaving his sons behind with his parents.  Simon is still asleep.  Grandpa puts him in his van and then waits for Harry.  Mother tells Harry to be a good boy.  Dad leaves his son with the TEG game.  He says he loves his son very much and gives him a couple of kisses.  Harry watches as his parents leave, perhaps never to be seen again.  Harry runs after them down the highway, but he can't keep up with them. 

He says:  "The last time I saw him, my dad spoke of Kamchatka.  This time I understood.  Whenever I played, dad was with me.  When the game got tough, I stayed with him and survived, because Kamchatka is the place to be when you want to resist."


The military dictatorship in Argentina murdered/assassinated many people.  This films lets the viewer see what this means to a 10 year old son of parents who are targeted for elimination by the dictatorship.  The family, in order to survive, goes into hiding.  The fear of being discovered is palpable and it's tough both on the parents and their two boys.  Because of the terrible situation, the family is thrust together closer than they would ever have been in real life.  They form really close bonds with each other because they often have only each other to rely on.  They are very isolated from other people, because they are in hiding.  While the family bond gets stronger, it ultimately has to splinter.  The parents eventually have to leave their sons behind with their grandparents.  It's tough to watch the 10 year old seeing his parents for the last time as they drive away from the place of transfer of the boys to the grandfather.  Dad and mother just disappear as if into the air.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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