‘Argentina, 1985’: A great lead performance saves a flawed historical courtroom drama [B-] | Venice Film Festival
We may try to grasp history with our hands, but it always finds a way out of our control. How can we imagine catching it, when every possible force is conspiring against us? There are times though when that opportunity, scary as it may be, presents itself spontaneously, and it’s only our courage, our conscience that makes us meet that challenge.
Julio César Strassera is a newly appointed federal prosecutor and he’s been chosen to lead the investigation and the trial against the military juntas that devastated Argentina for almost ten years, from 1976 when the Videla dictatorship started, to 1983, the year of the new first democratic elections in the country. He feels trapped in his new position, he actually thinks he was the victim of an ambush, as he feels he’s never going to succeed in his mission. Who is going to help him? What can be done in order to accuse and sentence the commanders of such a bloody yet popular dictatorship? With the support of his family, he builds a team of young investigators and prosecutors without any notable ties to that terrible past that just finished, and in a mission against all odds, they lead a perilous and difficult trial to change the history of the country and to gain the support of the oblivious public opinion that still isn’t ready to let go of its past.
Santiago Mitre’s new picture Argentina, 1985 focuses on what is probably the most pivotal moment in Argentina’s recent history. How many countries get to come to terms with their past, and how many are left unscathed at the end of that process? This is the question that Mitre asks with his movie. Can the strength of a small group of men overtake the resistance of an entire country? Julio Strassera is stoic, determined and yet full of doubts and fear for what may happen to him and his family, and Argentinian actor Ricardo Darìn gives a flawless performance as the prosecutor with the task of a lifetime: he’s able to convey the image of a man on a mission as well as light the atmosphere with unexpected humor, he can play tough in the face of the pompous and arrogant defense team and he’s also able to display delicacy, softness and moral integrity, as shown in his magnificent final accusation pitch. He can fill the gaps sometimes left by the writing, which tries to inject humor in a very serious story that doesn’t always give us a clear picture of what the stakes were for Argentina during such a crucial moment. The approach is at times too straightforward, matter-of-factly, before suddenly caving in to an unearned emotional payoff that rings false when juxtaposed to the film that played before. Nevertheless, it’s an important movie that is perfectly capable of entertaining and informing about a hugely important subject matter.
This review is from the 2022 Venice Film Festival. Argentina, 1985 will be in theaters on September 30 and on Prime Video October 21.