THE OFFICIAL STORY
SUBJECTS — World/Argentina;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Parenting; Human Rights;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness.
AGE: 14+; MPAA Rating — R;
Drama; 1985; 112 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.
The place is Argentina. The time is during the Dirty War of the late 1970s and early 1980s. A mother is painfully and inescapably driven to find her adopted daughter’s origins. The truth illuminates one of the awful secrets of Argentine history.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
1985 Academy Awards: Best Foreign Language Film; 1985 Cannes Film Festival: Best Actress (Aleandro); 1986 Golden Globe Awards: Best Foreign Film; 1985 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards: Best Foreign Film; 1985 New York Film Critics Awards: Best Actress (Aleandro); 1985 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Original Screenplay.
Norma Aleandro, Hector Alterio, Chela Ruiz, Chunchuna Villafane, Hugo Arana, Patricio Contreras.
Luis Puenzo and Argentina Puenzo.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
This movie is a sensitive and intense exploration of moral character which is paralleled by the viewer’s initiation into the consequences of a decision by a country’s military junta to torture, murder and make its opponents “disappear.” The film also introduces us to a critical period in recent Argentine history.
Before showing this film to children you should describe the political situation in Argentina during the 1970s and at least tell them that: During much of the 20th century, Argentina suffered from political instability. From 1976 to 1983, it was ruled by a ruthless right-wing military junta that imprisoned tens of thousands of people suspected of opposition to the regime. There was no trial or due process. People would simply “disappear.” Many were tortured. About 30,000 of the “disappeared” were never heard from again. One of the hidden atrocities committed by the junta was that pregnant prisoners were allowed to give birth before they were killed. The babies were not returned to the families of the victims but instead were given to friends of the regime who wanted to adopt a child.
SERIOUS. The wife/mother is briefly but brutally beaten by her husband at the end of the movie. Some alcohol abuse is shown but it is not portrayed as a positive.
Before watching the film, briefly describe the Dirty War in Argentina 1976 – 1983. See Helpful Background. Immediately after the movie, or at odd times over the next week (for example at the dinner table or in the car on the way to school) bring up some of the Discussion Questions, starting with the Quick Discussion Question in the sidebar. Don’t worry if you can only get through a few questions. Just taking the film seriously and discussing it is the key. Allow your child to watch the movie several times and continue to bring up discussion questions relating to the film.
See the second paragraph of the Benefits Section. A person we interviewed was imprisoned and tortured because his name was found in the phone book of another person suspected of complicity in the insurgency. Fortunately, someone had seen the military take him away and his family was able to secure his release.
The killings occurred in a number of ways. Many people were tortured to death. Others were dropped into the ocean from helicopters. Still, others were taken to distant locations, herded into groups and machine-gunned. Another former prisoner of the Junta told us of his escape when he was taken with a group of prisoners to be executed by machine gun. A few people tried to run and were gunned down by the soldiers. In the ensuing confusion, the second wave of prisoners tried to run and a few escaped without being shot. The person that we spoke to said that he was one of the few lucky ones who escaped in the second group. Those who did not try to escape were machine-gunned to death. We do not have the resources to confirm these eye-witness accounts but they are consistent with written reports about the activities of the Junta.
Mothers of “the disappeared” took to marching in the Plaza de Mayo, a central square in Buenos Aires close to government offices. The “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo” mounted the first protests that the military dictatorship could not snuff out.
The Argentine military saw its role in the Dirty War as defending what it called “Western and Christian civilization.” This effort took on many perverse forms in addition to torture and murder. When female prisoners were pregnant, they were not killed until after the baby was delivered. The newborn was then placed with childless families of people in the military-security apparatus using forged birth certificates. Most of the adoptive parents knew of the origin of these children. Some actually visited the jails and observed the pregnant mothers. It is estimated that 500 orphans were placed in this manner. As of 1998, about 60 orphans had been recovered by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo working with the Argentine courts. These children have been returned to the families of their murdered parents. One of the former military dictators of Argentina, General Jorge Videla, who had received a pardon for murder and torture, has been indicted for ordering the kidnapping of babies, a crime not included in the pardon.
Racist attitudes played a part in the Argentine military’s efforts to kidnap the babies of political prisoners. In Argentina, it is difficult to adopt babies of European heritage. Babies put up for adoption usually come from poor indigenous Indian families. Most of the political prisoners of the Dirty War were white and had been raised in middle or upper-class families. They were well nourished and well educated. The babies of the alleged revolutionaries were sought after subjects for adoption.
1. Could this couple be good parents to the child knowing the truth about the circumstances of her birth?
2. Did the father love the daughter? Could he really love her knowing her origins?
3. Were the goals of the military in Argentina’s Dirty War important enough to justify the sacrifices in human rights that it entailed?
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)
1. Why was it important for the mother to learn of the circumstances of her child’s birth?
2. Why did the truth of her daughter’s origins mean so much to the mother but not to the father?
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
- Los Angeles Times, October 25, 1998, Page 1 “Sunday Report: In Argentina, an ‘Open Wound.'”
Last updated December 17, 2009.