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** Synopsis **
Imagining Argentina was made in 2003 and directed by Christopher Hampton. Antonio Banderas and Emma Thompson play a married couple, Carlos and Cecilia, living in Buenos Aires in the mid-1970s. The country is in the grip of a military dictatorship and its citizens are going through turmoil. Every day, people keep being "disappeared": they vanish without trace, often after having committed some very minor act of political dissidence, such as protesting at the price of bus tickets. Cecilia, a journalist, keeps reporting these disappearances despite having received death threats. Carlos isn't too keen on her doing this, but she is headstrong and he cannot stop her.
One night Carlos comes home from the children's theatre where he works to find that Cecilia has been "disappeared" herself. He and his teenage daughter are desperate to find her, but don't know where to look. Then a curious thing happens - Carlos starts having visions of where Cecilia is being held. He believes he has a gift and puts it to use straight away, holding meetings in his back yard for the relatives of missing persons. Carlos finds he is able to see in his mind's eye the fate of people's loved ones who have been "disappeared", but for some reason he can't get a clear picture of Cecilia. He ends up following clues that come to him in dreams, combing the city and its surroundings for the place where Cecilia is being held. But at the same time the government has got wind of his clairvoyance and the meetings he is holding, and its henchmen start abducting Carlos' remaining loved ones. Will Carlos be able to find Cecilia before his life is completely destroyed?
** My opinion **
A film that started very promisingly for me, with original 1970's footage of Argentinian citizens protesting against their harsh leaders, quickly became a huge disappointment. It was so bad I hardly know where to start.
First of all, I knew the film was going to be in English rather than Spanish, and assumed that Banderas and Thompson would be playing an Argentinian-British couple or something similar. As it turned out, all of the characters play Argentinians, but the whole film is in English. This was very confusing as most of them had such thick accents that I couldn't always understand their English, and Emma Thompson's accent is ridiculous; a stock "foreign" accent with plummy vowels that keep poking through.
The next problem was the wooden acting combined with a highly melodramatic plot: I felt as though I was watching a cheap 1980s US soap opera, complete with cliched love scenes. Banderas and Thompson try their best, but their monotonous-voiced daughter appears to have researched the role by watching Pinocchio (though she does improve a little later on as a sobbing torture victim - maybe the director had given her a good telling-off by then). Meanwhile Carlos' colleague Silvio (cast as the shouty one, to contrast with the non-shouty colleague) was so dire an actor I wondered whether he was a member of the crew dragged in front of the camera to make up the numbers. Some of the bit-part actors are even worse. Were these people only chosen for the film because they could speak English? Also, judging by their pronunciation, many of them appear to be Spaniards rather than Argentinians (indeed, part of the film was made in Spain). I suppose the director thought an English-speaking audience wouldn't notice or care. Well I did!
The plot is absolutely ridiculous, with Banderas' character experiencing random dreams and visions containing symbols which are never really explained. There are some ham-fisted attempts at mysticism (such as a couple of former Auschwitz prisoners who tell Carlos that his stories are "keeping Cecilia alive" and an owl that people keep laughing at) and some large plot holes - why does the government go to the trouble of sending a spy to Carlos' meetings but not stop the meetings? If they are so worried and as intent on stopping Carlos as we are led to believe, why not just kidnap him instead of his colleagues and family members? And how realistic is it that Carlos could just walk into the government HQ off the street and speak to the leader?
What also frustrated me when watching this film is that we learn very little about the situation in Argentina at the time. We see original footage of the "madres" - the mothers of the "disappeared" protesting in their signatory white headscarves in front of the "Casa Rosada", the government HQ in Buenos Aires. But what provoked the disappearances in the first place? When did they start? What were foreign governments doing? How did the Argentinian military government explain the disappearances to the general population? Were government employees forced to participate in the torture of their fellow citizens against their will? How? (In the prison scenes, where we see Cecilia and her fellow inmates being tortured, the captors are all one-dimensional "baddies" who either seem to be having a whale of a time or are able to see it as "jut another job"). I would have liked the film to deal more with these issues and less with Carlos laughing at owls, running clothed into the sea or dreaming of shadows and shoes with plants growing out of them. Unfortunately, the original newsreels only serve to highlight the inauthenticity of the rest of the film.
As for the ending, I'm not going to give it away, but even if I did reveal what happens it wouldn't make much difference, as it's unclear whether it is supposed to be true or another of Carlos' dreams or visions. It seems to me like a handy way out of a silly and convoluted plot.
This is a film that tackles a very important and interesting topic but probably should have been made by an Argentinian director, with Argentinian actors, in Spanish, and with a better script and in order to do the topic - and the real-life victims - justice. Maybe that film already exists and it's just a matter of finding it.
If you're a glutton for punishment you can buy the DVD for £3.85 on amazon.co.uk
Run-time 103 wasted minutes
Argentina is the land where my dreams currently lie. It is hard to explain, so please don't ask me why, for I am trying to elucidate the answer myself. Something seems to ooze out of the soil and filter through your bones, or perhaps I am imagining things
Imagining Argentina .
Well I did not mean to start in this way, but Argentina is the land of dreams, and the land of broken dreams. The land of broken lives that many have forgotten and many still recall. A land that served as the scene of some atrocities that many wish to hush, while others are striving to keep alive.
Why would you want to keep atrocities alive? - Because sometimes it is the only way to ensure they are never reproduced.
"Imagining Argentina" is a story, fictitious but real (figure that one out for yourselves) about these very atrocities.
The story takes place during Argentina's Dirty War, which started on March the 24th 1976, when in a very well planned coup, the Argentine armed forces toppled the government of President Isabel Martinez Perón (with the full support of the US government, for a change).
A military junta, headed by General Jorge Rafael Videla, took charge of the country and proceeded to "eliminate" as many liberals, leftists and "political terrorists" (and anyone suspected of supporting them), as they could get their hands on. As these "descriptions" have always borne a crystal clear definition, which allows to very specifically target the right "bad" people, with full proof, of course, thousands upon thousands of people started to "disappear" in a campaign that was to last until1982.
A post junta truth commission recognises that at least 10,000 people were "disappeared". Amnesty International puts the figure at closer to 30,000.
Most of these people were tortured, killed by firing squads or thrown from planes and helicopters into the Atlantic Ocean, never to be seen again. Some did escape, and towards the end of the Dirty War, some "prominent" prisoners were freed and allowed to leave Argentina.
I only wish to point out that recently declassified State Department documents, (obtained by the National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act), show that in October 1976, Henri Kissinger (who was then Secretary of State of the USA) and other high ranking US officials not only gave their full support to the Argentine Military junta, but urged them to "hurry up and finish the Dirty War before the US Congress cut military Aid".
I will quote one last sentence, uttered by Kissinger to the Argentine junta on the Dirty War, and go back to the movie: "The quicker you succeed the better".
And now, for the story
Carlos Rueda (Antonio Banderas) works in a theatre for children in Buenos Aires and is married to a journalist by the name of Cecilia Rueda (Emma Thompson), they have a teenage daughter by the name of Teresa (Leticia Dolera).
Cecilia is very troubled by all the stories of the "disappeared" and decides to write an article about it, despite being warned of the possible consequences by friends.
Yes, soon after the article is released, Cecilia is taken by some men from her home and disappears as well.
Not long after that, her husband, Carlos, realises that he has visions about what happened to some of the disappeared. I will not tell you how he discovers this or in which way he does it, it would ruin the film if you decide to watch it.
He tries to trace his wife's whereabouts through his clairvoyant gift and this leads to many "adventures" and more mayhem.
I refuse to give away more of the story, for the reasons mentioned above.
Intertwined within the story, are depictions of the protest marches that the mothers of the disappeared organised on an almost daily basis in the Plaza de Mayo (Hence, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo movement) many of those mothers also disappeared.
There are torture scenes which I personally found very hard to watch (well, what do you expect). Although they are made to look as genuine as possible (and it works), I found that there is no unnecessary insistence, but enough to make your stomach reach your throat before changing the scene and allowing your organs to assume their normal place in your body.
All the actors did a convincing and emotional job, in my opinion.
Emma Thompson was criticised for taking this role, I don't quite see why?
Do you really prefer her acting next to Arnold Swartzneger???
I think her performance was exceptional and very persuasive, and Antonio Banderas seemed perfect for the role, as did the rest of the cast.
I did not find the movie to be dull or boring at any stage, but it is a very strong and shocking story and I would not show it to anyone under the age of 15.
I was left rather tense and enraged towards the end, but this may be due to the fact that I know many Argentines and know a bit about the history of Latin America, which has always been one of much suffering, and as some of you may know, it is a continent very close to my heart.
A better explanation could be that any sight or knowledge of such extreme atrocities and blatant injustices in a world that is supposed to be "free" always leaves me with a sense of powerlessness that grinds at my most inner core. So does the awareness that history is still repeating itself.
The Audio Options on the DVD are: Spanish (dubbed); English (dubbed); Spanish (subtitles) and French (subtitles)
DVD Video Options: Colour, widescreen, dolby.
There were no extras on the DVD that I rented.
The movie was directed by Christopher Hampton.
Writing Credits: Lawrence Hampton Thornton and Christopher Hampton.
It did not gain much acclaim upon its release; no cars blowing up, no men flying, no sex, no evil aliens trying to take over the Earth (although, it depends which way you look at this!) no one killing anyone else (or rather, too many killers but not killing in the colourful way we seem to revel in watching death arrive.)
However, the purpose of the whole venture was to portray the Dirty War that left Argentina scarred for generations, and to indirectly point a finger at the numerous other countries where such massacres are still enacted, as we speak; this purpose it did fulfil.
I recommend the movie very strongly to anyone concerned in any form of manner about human rights and their violation, or simply about human life and suffering.
I did cry for Argentina.