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A Sudamerica Cine, Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, Habitation 1520, GP Prods, production. (International sales: Sudamerica Cine, Buenos Aires.) Produced by Cecilia Diez. Executive producer, Daniel Cabezas.

Directed, written, edited by Benjamin Avila. Camera (color), Amanda Calvo, Mailin Milanes; sound (Dolby), Sergio Falcon. Reviewed on VHS, Madrid, Sept. 21, 2004. (In San Sebastian Film Festival--Zabaltegi Special Screenings.) Running time: 75 MIN.

Argentina's Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo became internationally famous through its members' attempts to discover the fates of their sons and daughters, who were "disappeared" by Jorge Rafael Videla's military dictatorship following the 1976 coup. Many of these children themselves had children, born in captivity, who were sent to live with new families. It is the fate of this subsequent generation that concerns Benjamin Avila's potently affecting "Grandchildren," a compelling historical document that sensitively and intelligently conveys the grief and complexity of the tragic situation. Exposure for pic in Spanish-speaking territories could jog memories and provide a valuable social service. (Helmer himself is the son of parents who disappeared.)

Part investigation, part documentary record of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo organization --and part of a larger movement in Argentina to guarantee that the bad times of history are not forgotten--pic combines inter views with the grandchildren with carefully organized TV footage of the early days of the movement and of the violent repression of the late '70s. (Videla himself makes a couple of chilling appearances.) There is no Voiceover, with Avila's strategy simply to record people as they turn over old photos, reminisce and reflect.

We watch the desolation of two grandparents as the graves of their children and grandchildren are excavated; the fact that one of the small coffins is excavated empty give them hope that somewhere, the child is alive. One scientist is interviewed surrounded by apple boxes containing unidentified bones from the excavations: He makes the point that the worst crime of the military dictatorship was to separate people's bodies from their identity.

One elderly lady defiantly holds up a picture of her granddaughter to camera, hoping that someone watching the film will recognize her. To date, close to 80 grandchildren have been reunited with their biological parents, but hundreds of cases remain open. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching moment in a film inevitably thick with them comes with the footage of an 11-year old girl who waveringly tells the interviewer she would rather see justice--rather than revenge --meted out to the people who killed her parents. Her resilient faith in human nature cautiously suggests a more positive moral future that is reinforced by several interviewees who have young children themselves, and are determined the country should not repeat its tragedies.

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Title Annotation:Documentary
Author:Holland, Jonathan
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Oct 11, 2004
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