Boyd Williamson reviews Cautiva directed by Gastón Biraben.
Quietly angry and subtly polemical, Cautiva addresses Argentina’s long period of willful amnesia following military rule from 1976 to 1983 and the “disappearance” of thousands of student activists, union members, and other dissidents. First-time director Gastón Biraben creates a poignant allegory of this historical-political amnesia and the struggle to overcome it with the story of Cristina (Bárbara Lombardo), a teenager who, one day in 1994, finds that her parents are not who she thought they were and that neither is she.Read More
The film announces it’s political intentions, and targets, immediately. It opens with a ghostly, staticky television image of a stadium full of ecstatic soccer fans chanting and waving the cheerful light-blue and white Argentine colors. As the image becomes clearer it reveals itself to be a broadcast of Argentina’s famous 1978 World Cup victory over the Netherlands. After the Argentines score the goal putting them over the top, the home-town crowd erupts and the television camera focuses on a couple of figures sitting close to the field: “President General Videla”, reads the yellow text under a shot of a mustachioed, aristocratic-looking man in a business suit; there’s also “Admiral Massera”, who has a grin on his concrete-block face; looking grimmer and wearing a grey trench coat against a light drizzle is “Ex-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger”. After the game has ended, nine men, including Videla and Massera, are brought onto the field. “Their Excellencies, the commanders of the nation’s Armed Forces; members of the Military Junta!” announces the sportscaster as the crowd is obscured by confetti and blue and white flags.
It’s the day of the ’78 World Cup, we find out later, that Cristina is born to a blindfolded and bruised woman in the dank, fluorescent-lit basement of a military prison. Fast forward 16 years and Cristina is celebrating her “Quinceañera” in a comfortable, loving, upper-middle class home outside of Buenos Aires. Cristina is a popular, pretty girl who does well in school and is adored by her parents and godparents—but there are early hints that she doesn’t quite belong, that she’s different. She has a sober, mostly unsmiling face—reflecting the tone of the movie—that contrasts with the gregariousness of her privileged classmates and friends. She also betrays a surprising amount of sympathy for Angélica (Mercedes Funes), a rebellious and angry girl who sits in the back of class and interrupts a lecture on Argentina’s constitution with an expletive-laden diatribe against the recent presidential pardon of ex-junta officials.
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