An almost textbook example of how to use a personal story to tell and illuminate a much larger one (are you listening, Oliver Stone?), The Official Story (1985) snagged an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and propelled director and co-writer Luis Puenzo to a brief (one film, Old Gringo) Hollywood career. The story is an intensely political one played out with a story line that at times verges on soap opera.
Norma Aleandro (who won Best Actress at Cannes for her portrayal) stars as a respectable, happy upper-middle-class woman in Buenos Aires. She teaches high school history, and has a husband who is in good with the military government. She also has a 5-year-old adopted daughter she dotes on. Life is good, but it’s only good so long as she can remain blind to the social and political injustices in her country — something that has been possible because none of it has touched her … or so she thinks. Reality intrudes on her as her students start questioning her strict adherence to the history she presents solely from the government-approved books.
An old friend shows up and her tale of being a political prisoner makes her students’ attitude that “history is written by assassins” seem less outrageous and of greater personal relevance. But the ultimate kicker is that Aleandro’s character, Alicia, has not only been blind to what is going on in her own country, but she has benefited from it — both with her comfortable life and the increasing probability that her daughter may have been taken away from a political prisoner and given to her.
The plot of the film details her search for the truth of this question and this is handled with suspense and heart, but the theme of the film is her political awakening. This theme is what gives the film its strength and its resonance — and the aspect of The Official Story that keeps it alive today as a relevant work. The title itself is the key to it all — the question of the ease and comfort of swallowing the official government story without looking into its veracity.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke