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Night of the Pencils

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Héctor Olivera
Produced by Fernando Ayala
Alejandro Sessa
Written by Screenplay:
Héctor Olivera
Daniel Kon
María Seoane
Héctor Ruiz Núñez
Starring Alejo García Pintos
Vita Escardó
Pablo Novak
Adriana Salonia
Pablo Machado
Music by José Luis Castiñeira de Dios
Cinematography Leonardo Rodríguez Solís
Editing by Miguel López
Distributed by Aries Cinematográfica
Release date(s) Argentina:
September 4, 1986
United States:
March 14, 1987
Running time 105 minutes
Country Argentina
Language Spanish

Night of the Pencils (Spanish: La noche de los lápices) (1986) is a Argentine drama film directed by Héctor Olivera and written by Olivera and Daniel Kon. It is based on the non-fiction book by María Seoane and Héctor Ruiz Núñez.[1]

This motion picture, based on the actual events recorded in history as Night of the pencils (La noche de los lápices), tells the story of seven teenagers, five boys and two girls, who, during a time of economic and political unrest in Argentina in the mid 1970s, protest for lower bus fares in Buenos Aires.

The event takes place as Argentina's notorious Dirty War begins.



Pablo is arrested and tortured in an Argentina jail.

The kids wanted reduced student bus fares so they take to the streets and protest. At first, under Isabel Martínez de Perón's government they succeed, but their protests draw hostile attention from the military regime, led by Emilio Eduardo Massera, that overthrows Peron. The "leftist agitators" are not tolerated by the new government.

The ensuing crackdown on the student social activities is demonstrated in the film when police break up a school dance wielding swords and on horseback.

Later, six students are kidnapped in the middle of the night, and the police claim ignorance about their whereabouts.

Pablo (Alejo García Pintos), a seventh member of the group is later arrested by the police. He learns that his friends have been brutally tortured by governmental authorities and he's not spared. The police give him electric shocks while radio music masks his cries.

He was fortunate to survive and tell their horrific story. His classmates were never found and became part of the thousands of desaparecido students who were kidnapped and never seen again by their families or friends.



Book cover.

Basis of film

The motion picture was based on the non-fiction book, La noche de los lápices, written by María Seoane and Héctor Ruiz Núñez. The book profiles seven high school student activists from La Plata, Argentina, including lone survivor Pablo Díaz, who gives the authors his testimony. The students were kidnapped by the government after protesting for cheaper bus fare.[2]

Pablo Díaz was incarcerated for four years. The other six students became a part of the 236 Argentine teen-agers who were kidnapped and disappeared during the military dictatorship.[3]

Filming locations

The film was shot entirely in the city of La Plata.


Night of the Pencils first opened in Argentina on September 4, 1986. It has been featured at various film festivals including: the New York New Directors/New Films Festival, the Moscow Film Festival, where it was nominated for the "Golden Prize," and the Toronto Film Festival.[4]

In March 2003 the film was included in a slate of films shown at the 1st International Film Festival on Human Rights, held in Geneva, Switzerland.[5]

Critical reception

Additional students arrested.

Critic Manavendra K. Thakur was appreciative of the direction of the film and wrote, "Olivera seems to have kept his integrity mostly intact. He does not shy away from disturbing realities, and he draws a surprisingly complex portrait of the students, their captors, and the students' parents. The film's accomplishment in this regard is considerable and therefore worthy of serious attention...[and] this is especially true of the film's second half."[6]

Caryn James, film critic for The New York Times, also liked Olivera's work, and wrote, "Mr. Olivera builds his film on irony and contrast, so the visual beauty of the early scenes - the deep blue night in which cars and lights glisten - calls attention to the ominous unseen political dangers. In daylight, the once-beautiful, now crumbling buildings, including the high school itself, become emblems of a country falling apart, not knowing what to preserve from its past."[7]

Award nomination

See also


  1. ^ La noche de los lápices at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. ^ Florida International University. Latin America & Caribbean Center, New Latin American and Caribbean Videos, Summer 2002. Last accessed: January 1, 2007.
  3. ^ Dartmouth University. Digital library data base; Argentine films. Last accessed: January 29, 2007.
  4. ^ IMDb, ibid.
  5. ^ International Film Festival on Human Rights screen program.
  6. ^ Thakur, Manavendra K. The Tech, Volume 109, Number 54, page 9, December 1, 1989. Last accessed: January 15, 2008.
  7. ^ James, Caryn. La Noche de los Lapices (1986) The New York Times, film review, March 14, 1987. Last accessed: October 18, 2009.

External links


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