La Noche de las Lapices (The Night of Pencils) (1986)




Director:     Héctor Olivera.

Starring:     Alejo García Pintos (Pablo),  Vita Escardó (Claudia),  Pablo Novak (Horacio)Leonardo Sbaraglia (Daniel),  José María Monje (Panchito)Pablo Machado (Claudio),  Adriana Salonia (María Clara),  David Gerber (Rusito),  Marcelo Serre (Corchito),  Walter Peña (Carozo Schunk),  Daniel San Joaquín (Chirom),  Demián Celentano (Diamanti),  Mariana Cedon (Luisa Pisani)Diego Korol (Crivelli),  Gustavo Tieffenberg (Delegado asamblea 1)María Celina Bedini (Delegado asamblea 2),  Carlos Lazzarini (Delegado asamblea 3),  Cecilia Liébana (Delegado asamblea 4),  Ana Celentano (Delegado asamblea 5),  Gabriel Meyer (Delegado asamblea 6),  Jorge Mastropietro (Delegado asamblea 7),  Matías Ruiz (Estudiante primer año 1),  Matías Coleff (Estudiante primer año 2),  Tina Serrano (Nelva de Falcone),  Héctor Bidonde (Doctor Falcone),  Esteban Student (Jorge Falcone),  Angela Ragno (Olga de Ungaro),  Maruja Pibernat (Tía Rosa),  Mario Rolla (Benito Díaz),  Pochi Ducasse (Hedda de Díaz),  Guillermina Selay (Marisa Díaz),  Alejandro Galluccio (Daniel Díaz),  Juan Manuel Tenuta (Rector 'La Legión'),  Maria Visconti (Profesora 'Bellas Artes'),  Felisa Rocha (Profesora de inglés),  Héctor Ezcurra (Rector Colegio Nacional),  Hebe Vardino (Profesora Colegio Normal),  Luis Minces (Judío),  Guillermo Sosa (Católico),  Ricardo Alanis (Montonero).

Seven  students were arrested in La Plata for advocating changes in bus fares just simply disappear.  This is a true story based on the testimony of one of the students who was let go (after four years of imprisonment).   The other six student leaders became part of the 236 Argentine adolescents who were kidnapped and later "disappeared" during the military dictatorship.  These students were just 6 out of the 236 Argentine young people who disappeared during the military dictatorship



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

"This film is based on real persons and real events. For plot reasons some changes have been made that do not alter the spirit nor the veracity of what actually happened."

La Plata. September 1974. Five students stand up before the audience. They try to quiet the audience who are booing or shouting things at the people on stage.

Claudia Falcone speaks to her fellow students. The student leaders want to get a discount on student bus tickets. What Claudia wants to know is are the students going to take some action on this matter or not? There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for action. In the audience is a young fellow named Pablo Diaz. A vote is taken. The students vote by raising their hands in the air. Almost all the students raise their hands.

A group of policemen ride their horses down the street. The students gather for the demonstration complete with big banners. There are a lot of students there. They march to a building, but have to stop because the police with automatic weapons are guarding the building.

The students bounce up and down shouting their slogans. Then one of the leaders of the students steps out of the crowd to say something. The student leaders lock arms and try to burst through the police blockade. Students start getting hurt from the actions of the police or from the strength of the crowd pressing the lead students up against the police shields.

The police start pushing the students back and back. One of the male student leaders gets hit in the gut with the point of a baton. A friend helps him to keep standing up. Shots are heard and the students turn around and start running away.

Pablo is in English class and is asked to come up front and speak English to the teacher. He's not too good at it. The teacher says he should study more and protest less.

Pablo and three other guys meet together on the street. Later the student that got batonned in the chest is visited by Claudia Falcone. The four students also come to visit the wounded man.

Pablo shows Claudia the nasty cut and bruise he got on the top of his forehead on the left side. She agrees that's some bad hit Pablo took. The hurt fellow tells Pablo that as soon as the students get their ticket, they leave.

Claudia sees Pablo sitting on a bench in a city park. She comes over and asks what is he doing? Nothing much. So the two walk together.

At Claudia's home Pablo and some friend have come over. They are coloring in some cartoon drawings. On the TV there is news that six students were killed by the police in two confrontations. Claudia says she doesn't believe anything they say on television news. They start talking politics.

Claudia's dad gets up and tells the students that in politics the first thing you need is patience. The young people don't want to hear that. Mother comes out with some hot tea. She hears on the television news that a professor of law and two students were kidnapped.

The next morning Pablo rushes over to his friend's house. The friend is still in bed. Pablo wakes him up and reads from a newspaper that something great has happened. They got their student discount for the buses. Soon the two friends are bolting from the apartment building and run down the street. They go to the park to join in the celebration of victory by the students. Pablo sees Claudia there and they hug each other.

Pablo takes photos of some of his friends posing with their new identification cards.

The next morning Pablo takes some food to a family living in poverty. He also show Claudia a pamphlet with a picture of Che Guevara on the front page. He lets her have the copy she is looking at. Behind the woman is a portrait of Eva Peron.

In the poor distract Pablo sees Claudia teaching school to some very small kids. It's Saturday, March 20, 1976. He comes up to her black board and changes a word so that the phrase says sunny day instead of cloudy day. The kids have a good laugh over the change.

Claudia and a friend put on a story accompanied by slides of the cartoon art work. The creators narrate the slides.

March 24, 1976. Perón died on July 1, 1974. His wife Isabel succeeded him in office. In turn on March 24, 1976 Isabel Isabel Perón was removed from office by the military coup. This led to the most violent de facto government in Argentina, the National Reorganization Process.

Pablo, Claudia and others learn of the new National Reorganization Process. Now they are all very orderly in school out of fear of what might happen to them. Different conservative government spokesmen and teachers reinforce the meaning of the reorganization.

At at celebration and dance a student mimics the language and stance of the government spokespeople. He receives a lot of applause. Claudia walks over to the food stand to speak with Pablo who is eating a hot dog. As the couple talks, all of a sudden government agents in business suits rush into the celebration with their pistols in their hands. They force the students against the two long walls. Claudia resists a bit and gets roughed up.

Claudia's father gets his daughter out of jail. At home dad talks with her about not getting involved with politics under the new government. Claudia says she has been taught all her life to stand up for justice and liberty. Dad tries to reason with her, but Claudia is going to go on being Claudia and there's nothing dad can do about it.

At night a group of seven are up to something. Two students stand watch outside while the others go inside the building. Pablo and Claudia set up a political message where everyone can see it. The message is that the reoganization must be stopped. Another sign says No! to the suspension of the student discount on bus tickets. A spray-painted message says Liberation or Dependency. A similar painted message says No! to the dictatorship in the schools.

A meeting is being held by five of the student group. Another student member comes in and delivers some bad news. The faces of the five students, just fall downward. The meeting ends.

Claudia is being watched by a government agent. She goes into the classroom where her teacher/mother has just let the kids go home. Outside are the sounds of a siren. Claudia needs to get some money from her mother, but she says her reasons for this are her business.

The student leaders are staying low. They stay home or just go to each other's home. One of the two young ladies active in the group is María Clara. She leaves the home of her boyfriend, Claudio, another student leader. She is followed by the same agent that followed Claudia earlier. María Clara goes over to talk with Claudia.

At night some of the student leaders are awakened by military police. The men are wearing black ski masks. They put bags over the heads of the students or cover their eyes with cloth and drag them off. For some reason they don't get Pablo Diaz. The police did get María Clara, Daniel, Claudio, Horacio, Panchito and Claudia.

Pablo goes over to speak with another leader working at a gas station. They talk about which students were grabbed by the authorities. Pablo asks his friend to hide him. So the two start looking for a good hiding place.

Later at night a policeman drives up to the gas station for some water for his radiator. Pablo's friend is very nervous that Pablo might be found. He has a hard time pouring the water into the radiator opening. The police leave.

The friend goes over to the ice freezer and he sees Pablo still sleeping there. The next day Pablo walks around town. He calls his father over the telephone. Father and Pablo walk along talking about what should Pablo do. Pablo goes home with dad. That night the military police raid the house and pick up Pablo. He is blindfolded and thrown into the back of a military vehicle.

They bring Pablo to the station. Pablo is very scared and is crying. The interrogator slaps him and says that they will just have a talk, so Pablo must be quiet. He is put in a big room where there are a number of men shoved up against the walls of the room.

Claudia's parents come to see if they can get their daughter back. Dad gets mad at the official, but mom takes over so her husband won't get into trouble.

Now the room is completely covered by men and some women sitting on the floor with their hands tied behind their backs and with their eyes blindfolded. The guards come in and grab Pablo. They throw him on his back on a table. Now they pull off his pants and underwear. They tie Pablo to a bed frame and apply electricity to his body. The interrogator watches and keeps telling Pablo to talk.

Claudia's father tries to get help from one of his influential friends, but the fellow is not going to stick his neck out to have it cut off.

At night the prisoners hear automatic gun fire and the barking of guard dogs. A priest comes into the room and speaks to Pablo. He tells Pablo to confess his sins. Men come in and grab five men and one woman. They are taken out and stood up before a high prison wall. The priest says some nice words to them.  The firing squad fires but nobody is killed. Then one man is thrown to the ground. The priest kicks the man. And now the fellow is shot many times with a pistol. The priest is a real monster.

Claudia's mom visits the officials in charge of the prisons. One official comes in. He is happy to see the mother because mom is the daughter of Dr. Mendez. Mom says she came to inquire about her daughter Claudia. The official is of no use to her. He says it's more likely that the Marxists grabbed her daughter.

Another guy is brought into the torture prison. He looks like the fellow from the gas station. They put him in a cell by himself. Someone in the cell next to him asks who is it? Are you new here? The neighbor says he's Pablo. The new comer says he is Horacio. Pablo is excited about this. Soon a lot of the prisoners welcome Horacio. Also in the prison is María Clara. Daniel speaks . And Claudia is there too.

Now lines of mothers and some fathers come to ask about their children. Claudia's mom is there. She doesn't get any assistance from the officials. In fact, the official there says that mom is an Argentinean, but her daughter is not. Mom says my daughter is an Argentinean. On her way out she meets the mother of Horacio. They grab each others' hands.

Pablo speaks to Horacio and Claudia. A guard tries to rape María Clara, but she makes too much noise.

Dad wants to wait on line with his wife. He doesn't like the idea that she has to do this alone. Mom points out Horacio's mother and says she will not be alone. Mom walks to the other mother and they kiss each other.

Pablo gets a couple of the guys doing calisthenics in the morning. They do it together even though each is in his own cell. When Claudia is put back in her cell, Pablo tries to cheer up. He succeeds and now he asks Claudia to sing a song for them. She will do it only if others also sing with her. Most of the group join in the singing.

Pablo is put in a cell with Dr. Mengele, who has a really long nasty gash on his left shoulder down to his chest. Mengele asks him to put some water on his wound, but when Pablo does so, it hurts so bad that Mengele grabs his hand.

On his way back to his cell, Pablo climbs up the cell wall and looks down on Claudia. They are happy to see each other. Their talk is short because the jailer is coming.

The group, blindfolded, get to wash themselves a little in the shower. Pablo holds the hand of Claudia and this causes problems. One of the guards makes everyone keep on their blindfolds and to make sure they can't remove the blindfolds, the guard ties everyone's hands behind their backs. The guard then proceeds to rape one of the women. She screams a lot and curses him a lot and he soon gives up. The other prisoners were also yelling at him. After the rape, the woman keeps hitting her head against the cell wall, saying that she wants to die.

Some fellow tries to discourage the two mothers from coming back and back to try to find out about their children. The guy is just another bastard of the military government. He gives up on the women.

The pregnant woman is in the cell with Claudia. She keeps telling Claudia that it hurts so bad. So the young people start banging on their cell doors to get the jailer. He finally comes along with another man. They remove the pregnant woman from the cell. Awhile later, Claudia smiles because she can hear the cry of the baby.

Finally, the two mothers go to see an official who frankly and brutally tells the women to resign themselves because they will never see their children again. Horacio's mother can't comprehend what the man said. She asks: "What?" He repeats what he said. Claudia's mother says there could be an error or a mistake. No!

The women are devastated. Horacio's mother hugs her friend to be supportive. And then she leaves.

Pablo asks Claudia to start the singing. She does so and the others join in.

The jailers clean Pablo up a bit so they can take a photograph of him. He has to keep his eyes closed because the light hurts his eyes too much. Later the colonel talks with him. The colonel says they are going to let him go. But he must never say that he was here in this prison.

Pablo tells Dr. Megele what the colonel told him and the doctor says that's good news. Pablo is going to get out of here. He also tells Pablo that he told him that this would happen. Now Pablo tries to talk to Claudia, but she has been crushed by the news and can't or won't speak.

The jailer takes Pablo out of his cell. Pablo begs the man to let him talk to Claudia for a minute. The jailer doesn't like it, but he consents.

Pablo gets to be in the cell alone with Claudia. Pablo says they are all going to leave. Claudia says no. They are going to kill us. Pablo holds onto the hope that he will see Claudia again and that they will be boyfriend and girlfriend. Claudia both cries and laughs at Pablo.

"December 28, 1976 Pablo Diaz was put in the hands of the National Executive Power, under the pretext of just having discovered him this day, distributing subversive pamphlets. He was detained almost four years without judicial procedure, until November 19, 1980 when he was granted his freedom."

María Clara Falcone, Horacio Ungaro, Claudio de Acha, Panchnito Lopez Muntaner, Daniel Racerio and María Clara Ciocchini , as well as 232 other teenage Argentineans, continue having the status of having disappeared.

La Plata still has the discounted student bus tickets.



These films about the Argentinean military dictatorship are tough to watch.  The torture is gut-wrenching and then the tortured are usually, but not always, killed.  This particular film is par for the course.  There is one difference, though.  The people in the story were just teenagers when they were thrown in jail and tortured.  Did the punishment fit the crime?  Of course not.  It's as if the military has no morals what-so-ever.  They would just kill anyone and everyone in their way regardless of sex and age.  And, of course, they said that they had to do this to stop a communist take-over.  They probably knew the USA would like that excuse. 

I really had a tough time with this Argentinean Spanish language.  Mexican Spanish is easier to translate because it sounds clearer.  If I made any big mistakes, you Spanish speakers can let me know, okay?   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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