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Jesper W. Nielsen
In 1976 the Argentine military overthrew the constitutional government and took power on the grounds that the country was descending into chaos. The regime targeted even moderate progressives and contemplated the assassination of all "subversives" with any capacity for leadership (including high school students demonstrating for reduced bus fares). There was systematic use of torture for obtaining information, and disappearance of victims, so relatives would never know their fate (the word "desaparecido", disappeared, acquired a new and sinister meaning).
In 1977 a group of mothers with disappeared sons/daughters began to demonstrate in front of the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, and they became known as Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo (the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo). In spite of the regime's efforts (including death threats and violence) to suppress them, the Mothers pushed for information on the whereabouts of their children. Although they were initially ignored or ridiculed, their efforts eventually highlighted to the country and the world the human rights violations occurring in Argentina. European governments (to date strangely tolerant of the regime) had to take note and the US, that had supported the coup from its inception began to look discreetly for cover.
La Amiga (The Friend) begins in 1978. María and Pancho (Liv Ullmann and Federico Luppi) are a happily married couple living in a working-middle class suburb of Buenos Aires. Their eldest son is one of the disappeared. Maria's relentless search for her son makes her a target of the regime, especially when she joins the Mothers. Raquel, an actress, has been María's friend since early childhood. and she also becomes a target in a different way; she is Jewish, and her choice roles (such as Antigone) displease the dictatorship.
The movie ends in 1986. After the military regime imploded in 1983 democracy returned to Argentina, but the military intimated that any attempt to investigate their crimes would be answered with a new coup, which induced President Alfonsín to pass an infamous "due obedience" law that exonerated all but those at the very top. This was completed by President Menem with an general amnesty. The movie was released in 1988 and its last sequences reflect this; the menace of a new military coup is in everybody's mind, and puts a damper on efforts to clarify the fate of the disappeared. This is shown in a moving scene where María recognizes one of her son's abductors in a restaurant.
Now, to the movie's specifics. Liv Ullman plays María, dubbed in Spanish. I am not a fan of dubbing, but in this case is of such quality that Ullman's face and body language combined with the voice of Argentinian actress Barbara Mujica merge into an outstanding performance. The rest of the cast (Argentines Federico Luppi, Cipe Lincovsky and Victor Laplace) is at the same level. Dialogs by Argentine writer Osvaldo Bayer are faithful to the local brand of Spanish spoken in Buenos Aires and environs. Director Jeanine Meerapfel (born in Argentina from German Jewish parents, refugees from Hitler's Germany) does an outstanding job overall.
Although not germane to the movie, here is what happened in Argentina after 1988. President Kirchner, who took power in 2003 finally called the military's bluff, derogated amnesty laws and initiated mass trials of figures of the 1976-1983 regime. The military were cut down to size and publicly humiliated and some of the worst violators ended their lives in prison. Thanks to Kirchner, Argentines were finally rid of the military menace, one hopes for good.
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