The Disappeared and the Disappearing

Docu-drama on Argentina’s Dirty War offers contemporary insights

Argentine filmmaker Albertina Carri lost her parents to military thugs in 1977 when she was four years old, and even though Carri knows they’re dead, she hasn’t stopped searching for them.

In her 2003 film “The Blonds” (“Los Rubios”), Carri creates a hybrid documentary-dramatic feature to learn more about her parents––mythologized political activists whose real personalities and characteristics are obscured by the nostalgia and aversion to unearthing painful events shared by her older sisters, relatives, and friends.

Unfortunately Carri’s search is tedious, rather like watching someone’s home movie about their family, albeit a family that suffers a horrible fate. But “The Blonds” powerfully illustrates the lingering damage these murders left on Argentine society, in this case the very personal vacuum Carri feels regarding her own family history and identity.

The movie’s principal subjects are Carri’s parents, Roberto Carri and Ana Maria Caruso. At the heart of their personal story, however, is the larger theme of Argentina’s Dirty War that occurred during the military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983 during which as many as 30,000 Argentines were kidnapped and killed without judicial recourse or explanations to families.

The killings were ostensibly aimed at eradicating terrorists, but many victims were lawyers, political activists, intellectuals, and journalists. Carri’s father was a journalist and activist.

The most interesting moments in “The Blonds” focus on friends and neighbors discussing the kidnapped couple, whom many remembered as blond, though in fact they were not. The testimonials are mostly frustrating because few interviewees are willing to set aside their self-censored perspectives on the past, as Carri and the actress who plays her acknowledge at one point in the film.

The film’s most intriguing juncture is when Carri interviews one of her father’s former colleagues, who explains that he and Roberto Carri had a falling out over a political difference of opinion. The comments suggest that Argentine leftists of the era may have been just as intolerant of political differences as the military dictatorship that pursued them.

The colleague’s negative comments about Roberto Carri come closest to humanizing the murdered journalist, unrealistically remembered by most observers in the film as a handsome, warm, intelligent and noble martyr. It is a welcome moment of candor.

The patience of viewers is likely to be tested by the shifting back and forth between a straightforward feature on Carri’s parents and the “making of” a documentary approach. The family’s history is interesting and tragic, but it might not be worth the effort this film demands.

The Spanish-language documentary with English subtitles arrives in New York at a significant moment in history, when the fight against terrorism has led the U.S. government to perpetrate its own extra-judicial detentions of citizens and non-citizens. The arrest of U.S. citizen José Padilla in Chicago in May 2002 and the government’s claim that he was an enemy combatant undeserving of basic civil and legal rights illustrates how any country can violate its own claims to protecting civil liberties.

Last December, the Second U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Pres. George W. Bush could not declare U.S. citizens like Padilla––accused of conspiring to detonate a radiological dirty bomb––an enemy combatant without congressional authorization. Padilla, a former gang member and convert to Islam, was ordered released from military detention. The U.S. government appealed the ruling and the Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments about Padilla’s continuing detention later this month.

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