Argentina’s Oscar submission for Best International Film is a gripping thriller

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | Oct. 27, 2022

Argentina, 1985
Prime Video, On Now
4 out of 5

Likely to fly under the radar (Latino movies with subtitles rarely get much traction unless Alfonso Cuarón is involved), Argentina, 1985 is a sturdy thriller based on the events surrounding the trial of the generals responsible for the bloody 1976 – 1983 military dictatorship.

Traditionally, films like this are often heavy-handed and haughty. I would know. I’m Chilean, and these movies are our bread and butter. But writer/director Santiago Mitre (The Summit) is well versed in the genre and knows when to use a light touch or dab of humour, and when to ramp up the tension.

At the centre of Argentina, 1985 is civil prosecutor Julio Strassera (Ricardo Darín, The Secret in Their Eyes), who is tasked with building a case against the nine generals responsible for the so-called Dirty War (the kidnapping, torture, and murder of political rivals).

The mission is thankless. The newly elected democratic government is young and weak, and doesn’t want to rattle the cage. No experienced lawyer wants to join Strassera’s team. And by becoming the face of the prosecution, Strassera is basically painting a target on him and his family.

But Strassera is not without resources. By rights, his number two should be in the generals’ camp, but he turns his back on his military background to join the prosecution. The rest of the team is comprised of young underemployed lawyers with few concerns about their career prospects as they don’t really have any. Together, they have to thread a delicate needle, building an unimpeachable case so the dictators and their cohorts see jail time, while convincing middle class Argentines that the cause is just (public support equals legitimacy).

The film is loaded with powerful moments, particularly the recreation of testimonies of victims of torture. But Mitre never loses sight of the forest for the trees. Argentina, 1985 works as an indictment of societies willing to look the other way when political violence is carried out against opponents, and a reminder of the importance of checks and balances in government institutions. ■