Cinergía Movie File:

The Official Story (La historia oficial) 

Directed by Luis Puenzo, 1985

 

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La Historia Oficial

Created by

Cristina Molano-Wendt, Amy Bianchi, Shannon Tierny, and Brian Sabella

Scroll down or Click on any section to jump ahead:

Section 1: Pre-screening

Section 2: Film Comprehension and Criticism

    Section 3: Media analysis


Section 1: Pre-screening  

Section 1:  Pre Screening

Note: Given the transitory nature of internet resources we suggest conducting a search to help answer the pre-screening questions.  Only a few links are included below.

Background Links

Review of the Movie

http://www.film.u-net.com/Movies/Reviews/Official_Story.html  

In English.  This website is useful to get a feel for the story in “La Historia Oficial.”  It provides a brief synopsis of the movie, introducing character names and plot.  There is a short commentary on the meaning of the movie, and historical references.

The Dissappeared

http://www.yendor.com/vanished/

In English.  This website provides information about the “desaparecidos,” their histories, government information, and investigations that have gone on since the overthrow of the dictatorship in Argentina.  Links are offered regarding further reading on the subject and to various human rights organizations.

Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo

http://www.madres.org/

In Spanish.  This is the official site of the “Asociación de Madres de Plaza de Mayo,” the peaceful protest group of mothers of vanished children in Argentina.  The site has links to websites filled with poems in reaction to the tragedy, background history, events sponsored by the “Madres,” and their publications.

Las abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo

http://www.abuelas.org.ar/

In Spanish.  This is the official website of the “Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo,” a group similar to the “Madres de Plaza de Mayo.”   It lists current events sponsored by the “Abuelas,” a history of the group, and links to children’s rights organizations.  There is also a link to translate the site into English.

Derechos-Human Rights

http://www.derechos.org/esp.html

In Spanish.  This website gives information as to the “true” history behind the “desaparecidos.”  It provides information about the “CONADEP,” (National commission of disappeared persons), including board members, and the purpose of the organization.  

 

Argentina en Patria Grande

    http://www.patriagrande.net/argentina/

In Spanish by Hector Velarde.  This website covers Argentine culture and history through articles and biographies written by actual Argentineans, including poets and statesmen. 

La historia oficial en IMDB

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089276/

In English. Website with many movie reviews and other info.

Pre-Screening Questions:

1)         Who was Juan Domingo Perón?  

2)         When did the military rule begin in Argentina, and how long did it last?

3)         What is a “desaparecido?”

4)         What is the capital city of Argentina?

5)         What is the significance of the group called “las Madres de la Plaza de mayo?”

6)         Who was the director of the movie “La Historia Oficial?”  Did he/she make any other movies?

7)         Who was in power in Argentina when “La Historia Oficial” took place?

8)         Why were “desaparecidos” taken from their homes?

9)         In what year was “La Historia Oficial” directed?

10)        What is the significance of the title “La Historia Oficial (the official history)?”


Section 2: Film Comprehension and Criticism  

Film Comprehension

  1. When was the film produced?

2.   What time frame is the film set in?  Why is this significant?

3.   What is Alicia’s profession?  What is the significance of this?

4.   What type of demeanor does she have as a teacher at the beginning of the movie?  At the end? 

5.   What type of classroom does Benítez (Alicia’s male colleague) lead?

6.   What happened to Ana (Alicia’s friend)?  How does her story affect Alicia?

7.   Why do the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo protest?

8.   Why don’t Alicia and Roberto like celebrating Gaby’s birthday?

9.   Why, do you think, does it take Alicia so many years to question how Gaby was adopted?  Does she want to know the truth?

10.  What are Roberto’s underlying concerns throughout the movie?  What does he care about?

11.  Is Gaby a happy child?  Why is she scared at her birthday party?

12.  What is the official story? Is it the same as the true story?

13.  What happens at the end of the story?

14.  Are there similarities between Gaby’s and Alicia’s life?  What are they?

15.  What is the significance of Gaby’s song at the end?

Historical Accuracy

The following quotes come from Mark D. Szuchman “Depicting the Past in Argentine Films: Family Drama and Historical Debate in Miss Mary and The Official Story ” in Donald F. Stevens ed. Based on a True Story:  Latin American History at the Movies.  Wilmington, Delaware: pp.  173-200.

“Much in the same way as the lead actress’s hair unravels over the course of the film (in contrast to the tightly controlled bun she wears at the start), the official history of events in the Argentina of military governments unravels at the end, loosened from the weight of fear and political naïveté”  (Szuchman 191).

“Failure to fit always carries a price, as shown in the case of the slightly effeminate Martin Cullen.  His stylized response to the teacher’s calling of his name generates the predictable jeers by the rest of the boys.  We see the pranksterism of the students, which over time melds into the intolerance of a wide spectrum of Argentine society, ill disposed toward deviants of any sort, including, ultimately, the protesting Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo”  (Szuchman 192).

“More than any other single factor for indecision was the high level of uncertainty over received truths that Argentines had taken for granted.  This skepticism was captured on film in the unconvinced expressions of the students when Profesora Marnet de Ibañez intones the clichés about history as a key to understanding the world”  (Szuchman 194).

“Ibañez works for an important company of financial consultants that has at its disposal easy contacts with the military, both retired and on active duty.  The film depicts a common practice during the era of military governments, whereby high-ranking military officers were recruited into private-sector firms immediately upon their retirement from the services”  (Szuchman 194).

“How was it possible that Alicia and her peers remained impervious for so many years to alternative interpretations of the official storytellers’ tales?  In the context of the movie’s temporal setting of March 1983, Alicia would have had several years during which to evaluate the domestic and international dimensions of Argentina’s political environment.  Yet she arrives at the start of her saga with a Lockeian tabula rasa that remains an unconvincing and elusive facet of Argentine history”  (Szuchman 196).

Questions:

1.   How has the film changed or added to your understanding of the recent history of Argentina?

2.   Was the film directed very long after the truth about the past began to be revealed?  How might this have affected the historical accuracy of the film?

3.   What types of people were portrayed as having been victimized by the government?  In reality, what types of people were singled out?

4.   How quickly did Alicia find the possible grandmother of Gaby?  How many actual mothers and grandmothers of desaparecidos have found their loved ones? 

5.   Alicia finds it difficult/dangerous to speak out or question “the official story.”  Was there freedom of speech in Argentina when the movie takes place?

6.   What do you think was Luis Puenzo’s reason for creating this film?

7.   How does the film portray the government?  The general population?  The desaparecidos, other victims, and their families?

8.   How does the film portray females such as Alicia, Ana, and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo?

9.   Are there any solid answers given in the movie to the problems the characters face?  Are there black and white answers to the problems in the Argentina of the past and today?

10.  Would you use this movie to teach about the historical period covered?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of using this movie?


Section 3: Media analysis  

Still Analysis

The End of Innocence

In this still the most important thing to see is the expressions on their faces.  With Ana, her eyes are closed and she is crying while Alicia is behind her.   This is a symbol of how Alicia is behind the truth of the situation and does not know what is right in front of her face.  Alicia has an expression of terror, but at the same time she is thinking.  This still has a depth of field because it is necessary to see both women and understand the irony of the situation.  Also, there is fill lighting over Alicia’s face; she will not be “in the dark” anymore.  The camera is angled at a close up because this shot is critical to the film.  It shows for the first time that Alicia does not know the cruelty that exists in her own home.

Alicia lets her hair down

These stills give the viewer visual clues to the transformation of Alicia’s character. As she lets her hair down, she also acquires her voice and her independence.  While learning the truth ahs been hard for her, knowledge has also been liberating. The closed frame of the shot helps to focus on the transforming character of Alicia.  Her smiles and gestures indicate her spirit and passion.  The chiaroscuro lighting suggests that her happiness will be short lived and learning the truth will also be painful.

Madres de la Plaza de Mayo

In this still the shadows behind the banner are a symbol for the missing persons.  They show the audience that Argentina does not know what is happening.  All of the mothers are wearing the color white, which symbolizes innocence. The deep focus de-emphasizes the individuals and focuses on the way that the women represent all of the families of Argentina that have been traumatized. The light is natural because they are outside.  The placards and posters are more predominant than the actual people, demonstrating that the disappeared remain large in family memory.  The struggle to find out what happened to these people is also larger than the people conducting the struggle itself. The camera is at a point of view shot, taken as Alicia watches the demonstration. Her perspective contrasts with what she sees.  Her view is from the side of denial and the mothers represent the side of activism.

Gabi’s History

In this still you can’t see Gabi’s face.  This is a symbol of her missing identity.  The girl sits in the dark with only a little natural light.  We can see her arm and again we see the color white.  This still is a symbol that Gabi is a victim of a cruel crime. She is alone, which symbolizes that even with the help of Alicia and her grandmother she will always bear the trauma of these events alone. The rocking chair also represents her stolen childhood and her stolen parents. The darkness and shadows that fall across her body and the rest of the frame represent the dark reality of what happened in Argentina during the Dirty War.  The way the shadows spill over everything suggests that all will be affected by what happened.

Media Literacy Questions

  1. Do you think many are inspired by Alicia’s persistence and deep-seated conscience manifested in this film?  If so, do you believe that to be the intention of the film or an unforeseen effect?
  1. Does the plot of La historia oficial seem motivated by historical accuracy, by creating a successful drama, or both?
  1. What significance did Gaby’s nursery rhyme play in the film? Can you think of any other times when music played an important role in conveying a certain aspect of the film?
  1. Whose viewpoint was not heard?  Why do you think that viewpoint was not included in the film?
  1. How would La historia oficial be different if it were presented by a medium other than film (i.e. novel, soap opera, etc.)?
  1. Can you think of an instance when a unique cinematographic feature played a significant role in conveying a certain aspect of the film? 
  1. Media messages communicate explicit and implicit values; name some values of Alicia the film seemed to encourage and some values of Roberto the film seemed to discourage. 
  1. Did it seem like La historia oficial was more driven by commercial characteristics (that is, the need to make money) or by the creation of art? 
  1. Are there any groups or people who would persistently disagree with the diverse politics and ethics of this film?  Are their voices loud enough to be heard in today’s society?
  1. What do you suppose the creators of this film have to say about the role of women in society?
  1. Who is the intended audience of this film?  Would a ten year-old child get anything from this movie?  Would a middle-aged, American man?
  1. Do you think it is important to do some research on the director of this film, Luis Puenzo, before viewing?  Why or why not?
  1. Do you think the purpose of La historia oficial was to inform, entertain, or persuade?  Was it a combination of these three?  Support your opinion.
  1. How did the film attempt to influence the attitudes, behavior, and values of its viewers?
  1. Is La historia oficial the type of film that can be enjoyed to its fullest extent through mere, passive absorption or must the viewer engage himself in its themes, plotlines, etc. to be fully appreciated?  How is this?

 

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Created on 4/10/01 

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