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Argentinian director Santiago Mitre and actor and producer Ricardo Darín recently sat down for a THR Presents conversation, powered by Vision Media, to discuss their film Argentina 1985, the titular country’s submission for the best international feature Oscar.
The Amazon original film revisits the historic 1985 trial of the military junta that ruled the country with an iron grip from 1976 to 1983, ruthlessly quashing dissent and disappearing more than 10,000 people, by some estimates. Darin stars as Julio Strassera, the world-weary chief prosecutor tasked with building a case against the generals after they relinquished power following the election of President Raúl Alfonsín. Reminded of the fragility of the restored democracy by constant death threats against him and his family, Strassera deemed it essential to involve Argentinian youth in the effort to turn the page on the dictatorship and assembled a team of relatively inexperienced but idealistic young lawyers to take on the former government.
Born in 1980, Mitre was too young to remember the trial, but growing up in a world shaped by its legacy, the director — like many others in his generation —developed a profound respect for the men and women who prosecuted the junta. “I had a lot of admiration for the trial of ‘85, because of the context this was done [in] and the way it was done and the courage that it took to the people to make it happen,” he says. At the time, “the military were still very powerful, very threatening. And society was kind of afraid … The idea of a new dictatorship coming back was not something very difficult to imagine.”
Darín, perhaps best known to international audiences for 2009’s The Secret in Their Eyes, was in his 20s when the trial took place and remembers the volatility of the period. “When they announced that they were going to bring this trial to fruition, there was a lot of skepticism in the air,” he says via a translator.
The actor, who previously collaborated with Mitre in 2017’s The Summit, was transported back to that era when reading the writer-director’s screenplay. “When I saw Santiago’s script,” he says, “I was one hundred percent convinced that I wanted to be part of this.”
Among the biggest challenges in making the film was recreating the 1980s while shooting in 2020s Buenos Aires. “It was a lot more difficult than what I expected,” says Mitre. “The ’80s seem to be right here, but they are far away. It’s as difficult to build the ’80s [as it is to build] the ’20s.”
The filmmakers were greatly aided in that time-traveling effort when they were allowed to film in the actual courtroom where the trial took place, a narrow, church-like chamber with dark wooden walls that would be instantly recognizable to the millions of Argentinians who followed the proceedings live on television.
The film builds to a Spielbergian climax as Darín’s Strassera reads the final indictment — verbatim — from behind a desk, just feet from the men he was condemning. The scene was modeled closely after reality. “It was an obstacle because I was not able to move or walk around or point or do this usual display that prosecutors usually do,” says Darín. “But … it forced me and pushed me to use my voice as a tool with all the different nuances and tones. And this is something that can be seen in that scene.” The tears seen in the eyes of the extras brought in to fill the courtroom seats were not faked.
Given the importance of the trial in Argentinian history, Mitre found it odd that it the story behind it hadn’t yet been turned into a film. “I’m surprised that it was not shot before, but I’m happy that we finally could do it,” he says. “I think that the film is a lot more relevant than we thought when we when I started … because you can see that everywhere in the world societies are so divided, and not-so-democratic speech is growing everywhere. The film is dealing with the subject of the consolidation of democracy and the power of justice to heal wounds and to build a better democracy.”
This edition of THR Presents is sponsored by Amazon.
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