‘Cautiva’ explores the ‘Dirty War’ of Argentina

Liana Aghajanian

While Argentina is consumed by celebration after winning the World Cup on June 25, 1978, a girl is born to a mother who will never see her daughter again, as she becomes one of the thousands known as the “disappeared” of Argentina.

In “Cautiva,” meaning “captive” in Spanish, Cristina, portrayed by Barbara Lombardo, who is a teenager living in Argentinean suburbia is plucked out of class when a judge who bears news that turns her life upside down summons her. It is revealed to Cristina that the couple she has come to know as her parents in fact had adopted her.

Her biological parents “disappeared” during the Dirty War for speaking out against the military dictatorship that had taken power after the coup d’etat that overthrew President Isabel Peron in 1976. Cristina’s surviving relatives, including her grandmother, had been searching relentlessly for years to find her after her parents “disappeared.”

Hurt, confused and shocked at the information thrown her way, Cristina does not know where to turn. Flung between her defensive and secretive adoptive parents and a grandmother who is still just a stranger, Cristina decides to take matters into her own hands and together with the help of a friend played by Mercedes Funes, whose parents suffered the same fate, Cristina seeks out the true story of her parents, their history and the events surrounding her birth.

In this important film directed by Gaston Biraben, a young girl must not only face her future, but also come to grips with her past. Narrated flashbacks of Cristina’s parents interwoven with scenes in which Lombardi’s performance as an average teenager with an extraordinary past shines give the film a unique feel and quench the thirst of the viewer.

In Spanish with English subtitles, “Cautiva” will definitely be a favorite for independent and foreign film lovers. The film is raw, from its stark cinematography to the simple classical score and the actors who push along the story. The film’s exploration of critical issues that have affected the lives of families across Argentina seen through the experiences of a young girl certainly has the possibility to reach viewers on a more personal level and encourage the audience to learn and seek out more information about one of the worst cases of human rights violations in the world.

During Argentina’s “Dirty War” which lasted until 1983, as many as 30,000 citizens “disappeared” in state-sponsored violence in order to wipe out anyone believed to be involved with opposition to the government.

The supporting cast that includes Hugo Arana and Susana Campos never over power Lombardo’s performance, but rather supplement it well. The dynamic between a teenage Cristina and the numerous adults in her life swaying her in different directions is expressed powerfully yet subtly in this political thriller.

Biraben, in his directorial debut manages to capture the real story behind a tragic event in Argentina’s past. Though the filming and scene structure at times could have been linked together more delicately, Biraben does great justice to a topic that needs more attention, especially in his first attempt at directing.

It opens in Los Angeles on Nov. 24.