My Anastasia

Porter, Anne

Screen TALES OF TWO FAMILIES THE OFFICIAL (& UNOFFICIAL) STORY THE official story is a film about complicity and conscience. It stars Norma Aleandro (co-winner of this year's Best Actress...

...The scene is perfect: one moment laughing, the friend is crying the next...
...nonetheless she is convincingly presented as an innocent who knows little about Argentine politics and nothing about the "disappeared...
...In general, she leads a comfortable and gracious upper-middle-class life, one given its own nobility by familial love...
...true to her sanguine character, it takes Aleandro a minute to catch up and really understand what she is hearing...
...Despite her husband's warnings not to probe, Aleandro researches adoption and hospital records, eventually arousing the interest of one of the mothers of some desaparecidos...
...Based on a story by Bosnian poet Adbulah Sidran, the film concerns a Sarajevo family whose father is arrested and sent to the labor camp during the early years of the Tito regime...
...The early sequences of the film document the extraordinary tenderness of this family, particularly the love of both adoptive parents for their child, Gaby, now five-years-old and a charming elf (Analia Castro...
...His love for his wife and daughter are unquestionable...
...Indeed, when she learns from her friend that children of the desaparecidos were put on the adoption market, she recoils in horror and, in effect, throws her friend out...
...In a magnificent scene in a cafe, the mother finally shows her a picture of her missing daughter, a young woman abducted after marriage and during her first pregnancy...
...TOM O'BRIEN Commonweal: 672...
...the moral seed, once planted, proves too hardy to be buried beneath complacency...
...Aleandro is happy with her life and her job, despite students 29 November 1985: 671 who protest her textbook approach to the past and tell her, "history is written by the assassins...
...Watching her preside over family gatherings, however, is the most enjoyable, warmest, and least slapstick part of When Father Was Away on Business...
...rather, she is the adoptive mother of one of the infants of the missing ones...
...Aleandro is married to a rich businessman (Hector Alterio), who, during the dictatorship, urged her to adopt a baby when they discovered that she was infertile...
...The Official Story is structured to result in a suspenseful climax: what will happen when Aleandro confronts her husband with her discoveries (which eventually also include his involvement with paramilitary police...
...Malik sleepwalks, and accordingly has a bell tied to his feet at night...
...Nothing is falsely shot or theatrically staged, not the evasions of the husband, nor Aleandro's need to know and horror of knowing, nor the understated grief of the second mother...
...It stars Norma Aleandro (co-winner of this year's Best Actress award at Cannes) as an Argentine mother caught in the aftermath of the time of the "desaparecidos" the "disappeared ones" who vanished without a trace after having been abducted, tortured, and killed by paramilitary police during the brutal military dictatorship of the late 1970s...
...A high-school reunion, however, unsettles her: her best friend returns from mysterious exile abroad, and after some happy reminiscences, starts telling Aleandro of her earlier arrest, torture, and flight...
...But this is trivial...
...Aleandro's intense shaking fit here seems no contrived mannerism, but a genuine incarnation of maternal anxiety cross-checked by guilt...
...When she finally has the courage to look at the picture, she sees Gaby's spitting image...
...Seen through the eyes of his seven-year-old son, Malik, the strength of the film is the humor and charm family members display in order to endure...
...his defect, Puenzo implies, lies less in such beliefs than in his singlemindedness and rabid anti-Communism...
...The dutiful Sena goes to lullaby her son to sleep, only to return to a snoring husband...
...We also see him in a classic family fight with his brother and father, an argument over politics in which he preaches the gospel of progress with conviction and passion...
...When Aleandro rejects her husband's cajoling embrace before the final blow-up, there is no trace of the staginess that marks most domestic quarrels in film...
...Alterio's increasing financial difficulties seem too neatly contrived to serve the purpose of the plot, and his fuzzy references to domestic politics, significant to an Argentine perhaps, are confusing to an outsider...
...The Official Story is thus a social protest film, but its focus is deflected from a simple contrast of good and evil, or victim and villain, to a more complicated drama of a good woman and a corrupt society whose villainy has benefited her...
...At the end, even his brutality is softened, or at least placed in context, by some final, futile gestures of affection...
...Nevertheless, the rest of the film details how Aleandro cannot resist investigating Gaby's origins...
...Intentionally or not, Kustirica has made Sena into a Balkan Ceres...
...The film opens with shots of her attending a funeral service for those killed in the Falklands (or Malvinas) war in 1982, just when the military dictatorship began to collapse and dark truths about its misdeeds began to be examined...
...Since the father was arrested for mild criticism of a propaganda cartoon, the family euphemistically refers to his exile as a trip "away on business...
...The final embrace and phone call, are a cinematic event this year of unrivaled beauty, horror, and pity...
...A wryly amusing memoir turns boring when Yugoslavian director Emir Kustirica attempts to encompass too much and starts hitting repetitive notes in his familial tangle...
...Director Puenzo thus manages to ride that old warhorse, the parallel between micro- and macrocosm, without the pretentious intellectuality that plagues many foreign filmmakers...
...Aleandro is not the mother of one of the desaparecidos...
...Most of the attention is focused on father and son, who have a relationship one-part banter and one-part reverence...
...His principal medium is Aleandro's face, a perfect registry of sensitivity, suspicion, pain, and finally exhilaration as she pursues her quest for the truth...
...The Official Story recounts Aleandro's gradual awakening to the secret of her adoptive motherhood as a symbol of her society's awakening to its secret crimes...
...although he loves her, he also has an insatiable taste for philandering...
...Sena deserves better but rarely gets it...
...Kustirica's directing and camera work catch her slight, somewhat strange Slavic beauty as well as her kind graciousness...
...When she becomes less important to the narrative towards the end of the film, it falters...
...The Official Story is superb...
...The most interesting member of the family, however, is the mother, Sena (Mirjana Karanovic...
...The brilliance of the film, directed by Luis Puenzo, rests on a peculiar twist of plot...
...With its excellent plot, acting, and directing goes a camera which captures, like an emotional seismograph, the inner conflicts that ravage the principal actors...
...The Official Story has become the highest grossing film in Argentine history, satisfying that newly democratized country' s craving for truth about the' 'disappeared.'' But as art, not politics, it also happens to be one of the best films of any kind of 1985...
...The only flaw in Puenzo's directing results from the fact that, in the husband's case, the micro-/macrocosm parallel doesn't work...
...But director Puenzo makes him a partially sympathetic figure, certainly no cardboard villain...
...When father was away ON business , another family tale, should have been a half-hour shorter...
...The suspense would be shallow, however, if the husband were rotten...
...The Official Story manages to be both highly moral and moving, all the more so because it courts moral ambiguity and avoids propaganda...
...When he accompanies his mother on a visit to the labor camp, he mischeviously (and Oedipally) rings the bell to disturb his parents' few moments of reunited bliss...
...She holds her family together during hard times, fights for her husband's release, and then endures his inconsistent loyalty...
...Aleandro plays a history teacher...

Vol. 112 • November 1985 • No. 21


 
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