Argentina is hoping to score another international Oscar win at the 95th Academy Awards on Sunday, March 12. Since 1974, the country has been nominated eight times and won twice.
The first victory was in 1986 with director Luis Puenzo’s La Historia Oficial (The Official Story). The second win was in 2009 thanks to the Juan José Campanella riveting crime drama El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes). The country’s latest Oscar hopeful is director Santiago Mitre’s Argentina, 1985, which picked up a Golden Globe for Best Picture, non-English language in January.
The film chronicles the behind-the-scenes work of the team of prosecutors tasked with bringing to justice the leaders of the country’s military juntas in a trial that took place over the course of most of 1985. The legal proceedings took place just 15 months after the end of the dictatorship.
During an interview in Spanish, just days before the Oscar awards ceremony, Mitre says he has always been interested in this period of the country’s history.
Almost 40 years since the trial that clinched convictions for many of the military leaders and others involved in the torture, murders and disappearance of thousands of people during the dictatorship, the director shares he felt compelled to retell the story of what transpired for new generations, who may take for granted the country’s fragile democracy.
What prompted you to make a film about the military juntas trial, focusing on the prosecution team?
It’s a topic that has interested me for a long time. I personally admired many aspects of what was accomplished with the trial – the way it was done, in the context in which it was done, just one year after the end of the dictatorship in Argentina, and with all the countries around Argentina still governed by military dictatorships. It took an act of civic courage to rebuild Argentina’s democracy.
It’s also very interesting to retell the story at this time, when it seems that some of the democratic values are not being perceived or taken into account as they should and with the importance that they should. Making a film that talked about the consolidation of democracy through justice was something important to bring back into focus at this time.
How was the cast selection process? Did you have Ricardo Darín in mind as the main character from the beginning?
Yes, I had made a film with Ricardo before this one, called La Cordillera. We had established a very close bond. He was one of the first people I told that I was working on this idea. Fortunately, he was very enthusiastic about it from the very beginning and after reading the first version of the script, he also wanted to come on board as a producer of the film.
We also thought of Peter Lanzani almost from the start of the project. He’s a young author whom I admire a lot and I really wanted to work with him. The duo with Ricardo was very good, plus there was a physical resemblance to the real characters.
For the rest of the casting, I worked with my sister, who was the casting director. It was a long process because we also wanted to find some new faces.
As you started working on the project, was there a sense that younger people were forgetting what happened during that time?
As soon as we started, we needed to see what people remembered about this trial to determine how to tell the story. We quickly realized people’s memory about it was quite fuzzy, especially in the younger generations, and how important our role was in helping them remember the facts in the case.
It was important to show how difficult it was to recover democracy, how hard it was for people who lived through the dictatorship to survive the dictatorship, and those who were able to survive it. We wanted the new generations and the people who didn’t remember it so much, to remember it again. I feel the film has already been able to do that. So we’re satisfied and I would say very proud that we accomplished that goal.
How closely did you work with the real-life characters, who are still alive, and their families?
We were lucky enough to be able to talk to many of them. I wanted to understand not only the historical chronology of the events but also the human perspective of the people who went through that trial. Many are represented in the film – members of the prosecution, judges, people who testified at the trial or their families, government officials at the time, as well as journalists who covered the trial. I tried to have as many sources as possible so that I could get a better sense of the moment and what it meant for all who lived through that trial.
Working on the historical memory of a country is something important in cinema. Especially, when it is done well and with a historical perspective and with a vocation to build a universal story.
You won a Golden Globe. What are your expectations now and what happens after the Oscars, whether you win or not?
I have my feet on the ground. I think everything that’s been accomplished with this film has been huge. Should we win, I’m going to be happy because I think the film has opened the eyes of many people about issues that they didn’t remember, and allows those who have been fighting for human rights and democracy to use the film to continue to raise their voice and that discourse that I think is so important in today’s world.
After the Oscars, I’m going back home. Since the Venice Film Festival, I’ve been concentrating on the film for almost six months, continuously promoting it, so I’m looking forward to getting back to work and to write again, which is what I like, and start thinking of new films to create.