The Spanish language historical drama film “Argentina, 1985” is a moving and heartfelt work that simply deserves a watch for getting almost everything right. Bringing into discussion the military dictatorship juntas in Argentina, the film focuses particularly on the lead prosecutor, Julio Strassera, and his team of young lawyers, who fought hard against military pressures and death threats to finally bring justice. While the film is not always the most accurate in recreating its court scenes, it does not make any claims to it either, and the work instead has a feel of collective memory and recollection of those days of 1985.
‘Argentina, 1985’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
The narrative begins seven months after Argentina had finally won independence from the military dictatorship and the newly elected president, Raul Alfonsin had assumed power in 1983. After taking on his role, the President had declared that the former commanders who had committed several atrocious crimes and violations as part of the dictatorship were to be put on trial. The commanders, who still shamelessly believed in their innocence, took this rather as a matter of pride for having worked against the left-wing revolutionaries who posed a risk to authority and asked for their trial to be conducted by the military court. However, no action had been taken in these seven months, and there was a rumor growing that the trial would actually be conducted by the Federal Court of Appeals, which is under civil justice. It is during this time that the sole prosecutor, in this case, Julio Strassera, grows wary of the possibility of this actually happening. Julio knew well that if the case was indeed taken over by civil justice, he would come under immense pressure to keep matters in check, while he himself had a deep-seated passion for bringing the vicious war criminals to justice. A government official working in close contact with President Alfonsin keeps visiting Julio’s office every few days, and although the prosecutor tries his best to avoid the man on multiple occasions, he realizes the reality of the impending court case as well. It is not that Julio is scared to take on such a massive responsibility, but it is rather his fear that he might not be able to provide justice even though he wants to; that is what holds the man back. Like every form of governmental power, the newly formed government also hired and appointed many from the dictatorship regime to continue working, and this made Julio all the more skeptical about the authority’s real intention and desire.
Julio finds support and encouragement in his wife, Silvia, and also in his young son and daughter; finally, the decision is no longer in his hands. In September of 1984, the Armed Forces Council sent in the report of their investigation to the Court of Appeals, in which it clearly stated that all the commanders being tried were correct in their actions, and their decisions taken during the time were unobjectionable. This made it very apparent that the military court would never punish the high-ranking men who were from their own field, and therefore, civil justice was required to take on the trial. Julio Strassera now had no choice but to spearhead the trials against perpetrators of the Dirty War and to serve as the lead prosecutor in the trial that became the most important court trial in the country’s history.
How Did Strassera Prepare The Case For Prosecution?
The first step for Julio Strassera in order to work on the case was to get hold of a team of lawyers who would help him prepare the prosecution. Taking advice from his attorney friend, Dr. Alberto Muchnik, the man decided to not accept any help from the government since the real intentions of these government-appointed lawyers would not be known to him. Instead, he set about preparing his own team, but this quickly turned much more difficult than he had thought since most of the professional lawyers he knew had either denied being involved or were supporters of the fascist right-wing authoritarians who were the primary accused in the case. During the preliminary hearings in October of 1984, Julio was still without a team, and it was here in court that he first met with the deputy prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo. Although Julio was initially skeptical about his deputy as well, Luis’ family background and his words of conviction turned his opinions around, and the two gradually became close friends. It was Luis who suggested that they appoint a group of young, inexperienced lawyers fresh out of law school and working in the attorney general’s office, for they would be the most dedicated to working, with their opinions also in favor of the prosecution. After a screening procedure, presented with certain humor that exists throughout “Argentina, 1985”, this team of young men and women was brought together. Strassera and his lawyers had to fight against time as well, for they had just about two and a half months to find any and all forms of evidence of homicide, unlawful politically motivated false imprisonment, and torture against nine commanders of the Argentinian army. The newly appointed lawyers were sent all across the country to look for leads and find information that would prove that the atrocities committed during the Dirty War were pre-planned and organized means to curb opposition. Many of them had to face harassment by police forces and regular threats from members and supporters of the army, but ultimately, by the date of submission of evidence in February of 1985, they were able to present a massive amount of about 16 volumes of documents as evidence.
While the prosecution kept doing its work, each of the lawyers and their families always kept receiving death threats and warnings throughout the time, and in the case of Julio Strassera, these threats had started from much earlier. Fearing for the safety of his wife and children, the man had reluctantly agreed to the private security that the government had arranged for him. In the case of deputy prosecutor Luis Ocampo, the threats and admonishments were of a different kind due to the family he belonged to. What the military junta and then the subsequent trials made very clear was the difference in political ideology with respect to class, and “Argentina, 1985” presents it very adeptly. Luis Ocampo hailed from a rich family from the Argentinian high society, and like all individuals of such class all over the world, his family members also had blind support for the fascist dictatorship and army commanders. Therefore, when he took on this case as part of the prosecution, his uncle, who happened to be a colonel in the army, and his mother, who used to visit the same church as Jorge Videla, who was one of the primary accused, Luis was like the black sheep of his family. Along with these internal pressures, the man also had private spies tailing him and indirectly threatening him as well. The court case, as a whole, was also feared to be interrupted or canceled by threats, as the members received a phone call warning them of a bomb blast inside the courthouse in April of 1985 when the public hearings were about to begin. There was a push from the supporters of the defendants to indefinitely postpone the trials and perhaps even root for another military coup. However, the tribunal of six judges who were presiding over the trial decided to start proceedings and not take such threats seriously.
Gradually, as more and more victims and witnesses appeared in court to give testimony, the exact extent of the pathetic acts of the commanders was brought to light. During the seven years of the Dirty War, which was the final military junta in Argentina, innumerable men, women, and even children were mercilessly harassed, tortured, and killed. The only reason provided for these deaths was that these people were part of left-wing revolutionary forces who were termed anti-nationals and enemies of the country. However, there were many ordinary citizens who were affected by the clash between these two sides, and the military started killing any and every individual they wanted to, and there was no consequence to it whatsoever. No court trials or hearings were conducted for any of these victims, and the commanders just went on giving brutal orders to target anyone who disobeyed their fascist rule. Based on the accounts of the victims, many of which are very intensely presented in “Argentina, 1985”, it was understood that the army had been regularly torturing and humiliating people just for the sake of it and that they often had no information to seek but just caused pain to their hostages as a form of sick and cruel entertainment. Many of these hostages had even been missing since the time they had been picked up by the army and had most definitely been killed. Such was the shocking extent of these tortures, and the consequent revelation of them in court, that most citizens started to turn against the perpetrators, and now most wanted them to be punished.
Change of opinion came in the personal realm as well, as Luis Ocampo’s mother also called up her son and acknowledged that she had been a blind believer for so long, and now supported his fight. Along with the positive and righteous situation of the matter, there was a space of major concern on the part of the government as well. It had been a little while since Raul Alfonsin had come to power, and like all other governments, he also wanted to remain in power as long as possible. For this, they had to make sure that they did not completely lose support from certain powerful sections of society and also, most importantly, ensure that the court trials did not lead to another military uprising in the country. For this, they wanted Strassera to handle the case with extreme caution, and it ultimately had a direct effect on the sentencing as well. But Julio Strassera was not one to slow down, as he presented his closing argument on the 18th of September, 1985, in which he summed up the atrocious situation in a heartfelt manner in court and cleverly used the new government’s popular slogan “Nunca Mas!”, or “no more!”, to ask for the army commanders to be punished.
‘Argentina, 1985’ Ending Explained: What Was The Court Sentence For The Trials?
The bench of six judges finally read their sentences on the 9th of December, 1985, and it was a majorly favorable decision, even though not a complete success for Strassera and Ocampo. Of the nine commanders, the two most notorious ones, Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera, were given a sentence of life imprisonment, and a third, Roberto Viola, was given seventeen years, which effectively suggested till his death since Viola was already aged at the time. Armando Lamruschini of the Navy and Orlando Agosti of the Air Force were sentenced to prison for eight years and four and a half years, respectively. Four others, Omar Graffigna, Leopoldo Galtieri, Jorge Anaya, and Basilio Lami Dozo, were acquitted and found not guilty of the charges, much to Strassera’s dismay. This was probably due to the government’s pressure to not punish each of the nine members, but “Argentina, 1985” does not make any mention of it. Finally, spurred by the encouragement of his young son and the promise he had made to his friend Alberto Muchnik on his deathbed, Julio Strassera kept working to seek justice.
“Argentina, 1985” draws to a pleasing end as Julio Strassera is seen preparing an appeal of the ruling on the very same night that he receives news of the judges’ decision. The film provides some more information on the subject, as the Trial of the Juntas became the first instance in history that civil justice had convicted perpetrators of a military dictatorship. Although certain impunity laws had been brought in after the trial, these laws were lifted some years later as well, and since then, more than 1,000 other perpetrators have been convicted for crimes against humanity. As Argentina has managed to run as a democracy uninterruptedly since 1983, more are being brought to justice, and a conscious effort is being made to honor all whose lives were devastated by the right-wing fascist rulers during the Dirty War.
“Argentina, 1985” is a 2022 Crime Drama film directed by Santiago Mitre.