“Infancia Clandestina” may be Best Argentine Film of the Year.

by Atzin Ortiz, contributing blogger

The film “Infancia Clandestina” (Clandestine Childhood) is Argentina´s submission to the Academy Awards–let´s hope that this brave, brilliant film gets an Oscar Nomination.

One of the biggest powers of fiction is the possibility to comprehend our history. A lot of films in the local industry have treated the military dictatorship of the 70’s as a recurrent theme. Benjamín Ávila’s “Infancia Clandestina” takes this context but gives it a completely different approach, which suprisingly (yet brilliantly) avoids a political stand. This film is a deeply touching and though-provoking cinematic experience, that could give Argentina a future possible Oscar nod for best foreign language film.

Newcomer Teo Gutiérrez Mateo gives a powerful performance as the 12-year-old Juan. His childhood is anything but ordinary. His parents (a wonderful Natalia Oreiro and César Troncoso) are high ranked militants who oppose to the military regime. They have lived in exile for two years. After careful consideration, his family thinks that it’s time to return to Argentina and keep fighting for their cause. To accomplish this, Juan must now live with a new identity as Ernesto. He will go back to  school, witness the secretive reunions taking place at home, and experience his first love.

More than a film about one of the most horrific passages in the Argentinean history, this is a story about a childhood interrupted, or a childhood shaped by this particular context. Ávila’s carefully constructed script (co-written by Marcelo Müller) takes inspiration within his own life (but don’t think this is autobiographical by any means). He was indeed a child who grew up in a similar environment (his mother was in real life an active militant and one of the thousands “desaparecidos”). As a result, the childhood of Juan is based on the never-ending contrast and contradictions of his innocence, the political reality of his country, and his inevitable early coming of age.

How does someone of his age should deal with such dilemmas? And how do his significant others must react to this? The film opens a lot of questions and brings no easy answers. One of the best scenes points out to these complex issues. After Juan’s birthday party (which is actually Ernesto’s, as it’s marked in his identity document), the family gets into a heated argument. Cristina Banegas, who plays his grandmother in an unforgettable special appearance, represents the whole fear of a repressed nation and is terrified with reason for the safety of her family. And she doesn’t look with good eyes the life Juan has got to live. Of course her daughter (Oreiro) thinks differently. She is doing this for his future. But does she fully understands the danger they live in or is she somehow blinded by her own believes?

His uncle (brilliantly played by Ernesto Alterio), who plays more as a father figure in Juan’s life, brings a balance between both poles. He is an idealist, and firmly believes in the movement, but he also is aware of what a childhood should be and brings comfort into Juan’s life.

Despite his young age, he is completely aware of what he is living. So, how does Juan eventually acts? I won’t tell. But every single event this film shows it is experienced by him. We’ll be always in his point of view: from an idyllic camping getaway with his friends, trying to reach the girl he likes, to a couple of violent events, seen through his eyes as gritty, explosive animated sequences. This is his story, which also happens to be one of the best films of 2012.

The film opened in Buenos Aires City and Province on September 20th. It has  been screened in numerous festivals around the world, such as Cannes, Toronto, San Sebastián and La Havana.

INFANCIA CLANDESTINA (Argentina/Spain/Brazil 2012)

Directed by: Benjamín Avila / Screenplay: Benjamín Avila and Marcelo Müller / Cinematography: Iván Gierasinchuk / Cats: Natalia Oreiro, Ernesto Alterio, César Troncoso, Cristina Banegas, Teo Gutiérrez Moreno / Running time: 109 minutes.

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