In 1816, Argentina declared independence but had a checkered political history until 1983, when a military junta stepped aside, and Argentina has been a democracy ever since. One reason the military relinquished power was that they lost public support in the “dirty war,” when an estimated 30,000 citizens disappeared, some dropping some into the ocean after being tortured in a civil war fought against advocates of democracy. Defeat against Britain in the Falklands War of 1982 humiliated the junta, but regular protests by women in the Plaza de Mayo galvanized support to discredit the junta.
In 1984, when the film begins, mild Chief Prosecutor Julio Strassera (played by Ricardo Darín) has been hearing rumors that he will be assigned to prosecute the nine-man junta, including three former presidents, something that he is reluctant to do, knowing that such a role will result in terroristic death threats to his family and possibly more from junta supporters. Nevertheless, the order to proceed is made, and he has limited time to collect the evidence for trial before the Argentine high court. He is assigned a young deputy prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani), eager to join the case, though his mother is a supporter of the junta. To his surprise, a dozen or so younger persons volunteer to go across the country to find 900 witnesses, some of whom eventually appear before the magistrates. Among many witnesses, the testimony of Adriana Calvo de Laborde (Laura Paredes), who describes how she gave birth while blindfolded and handcuffed in a police vehicle, shocks Ocampo’s mother into changing her opinion and supporting the prosecution. After the evidence has been methodically presented over several weeks, the final task of Prosecutor Strassera is to present an indictment. His speech is so eloquent that those in attendance rise in applause. Suspense then builds as the high court deliberates, eventually sentencing the leaders of the junta to life in prison. Titles at the end point out that at least 1,000 trials of lesser members of the military continued after the main trial, which has been called the most important war crimes trial since Nuremberg. In addition, the trial is the only case in world history where a democratic government has placed members of a military junta on trial, found them guilty, and placed them behind bars for life.
Director Santiago Mitre’s film received applause at the end of the film in a West Los Angeles cinema screening. The Political Film Society has nominated Argentina, 1985, for best film of 2022 for promoting both democracy and human rights. MH