Thursday, December 10, 2009

SCN: The "disappeared" appear again in Isaki Lacuesta's THE CONDEMNED

No, it's not a ghost story. Not exactly, though there are things that go bump in the night and deprive our char-
acters of sleep. These are called memories, and there are plenty of them -- mostly bad -- for the extended family that people THE CONDEMNED (Los condenados), a new film by Isaki Lacuesta (below) that debuts today in the FSLC's Spanish Cinema Now series.
Lacuesta's film takes place in Argentina, land of "the disappeared" (there have been "disappeared" in a number of South American countries, Chile and Paraguay among them, but Argentina -- with its troubles of the 1970s seemed to have coined the phrase). Now, three generations of this particular family meet in a lovely mountain location full of verdant foliage and a fine quarry in which to swim. Their purpose?
To dig up the remains of members and friends murdered and then buried here during that toxic political period.

One body in particular is of interest, that of Ezequiel, who died under even more mysterious circumstances than usual. Two of the older men in the group are aware of exactly how, but they are barely talking -- to each other or anyone else. This period seems to have become Argentina's little Holocaust, with the usual aftermath of memories, survivor guilt, betrayal, pain, fear and all the rest. It turns out that this is not the first excavation around which these people have gathered; this kind of family party to dig up the dead has been going on for years, and it continues to take its toll.

While we've seen a number of films about the disappeared, some that take place in the midst of the turmoil, others that tackle the difficult aftermath (documentaries such as Our Disappeared (Nuestros desaparecidos) or narratives such as Vidas Privadas), Lacuesta's movie does something different. He lets us observe the damage done by the event itself, by the secrets and guilt that remain, and finally by the manner in which survivors deal with all this. When the truth is revealed at last, does it even help? Does knowing the truth -- as we've been told so definitively by John 8:32 -- set us free? See The Condemned, and decide for yourself.

As a filmmaker, Lacuesta is reasonably circumspect. He doesn't shove things down our throat, and get very good performances from an excellent cast that includes Daniel Fanego (shown on poster, top, and in the two photos above) and that staple of Argentine film Arturo Goetz as the two older men. The filmmaker uses his weather metaphors well -- clouds and fog obscure, rain washes clean -- in this mountain setting where nature's beauty does its best to hide man's ugly deeds. The Condemned screens today, at the Walter Reade Theater at 2pm; Sunday, December 13, at 5:30; and Wednesday, December 16, at 6:15.

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