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The Official Story

DVD cover
Directed by Luis Puenzo
Produced by Marcelo Piñeyro
Written by Aída Bortnik
Luis Puenzo
Starring Héctor Alterio
Norma Aleandro
Chunchuna Villafañe
Music by Atilio Stampone
María Elena Walsh
Cinematography Félix Monti
Editing by Juan Carlos Macías
Distributed by Almi Pictures
Koch Lorber Films
Production Company:
Historias Cinematograficas
Release date(s) Argentina:
April 3, 1985
September 13, 1985
United States:
November 8, 1985
Running time 112 minutes
Country Argentina
Language Spanish

The Official Story (Spanish: La historia oficial) is a 1985 Argentine drama film directed by Luis Puenzo, and written by Puenzo and Aída Bortnik. It stars Norma Aleandro, Héctor Alterio, and Chunchuna Villafañe, among others. In the United Kingdom, it was released as The Official Version.[1][2]

The film is about an upper middle class couple in Buenos Aires with an adopted child. The mother comes to realize that her daughter may be the child of a desaparecido, a victim of the forced disappearances that occurred during Argentina's Dirty War in the 1970s.



The film looks upon a married couple torn apart by the campaign of killings and torture that sent thousands of accused political leftists to unmarked graves in the mid 1970s during the period known as the Dirty War. It begins five years after Alicia (Norma Aleandro), a History high school teacher and, Roberto (Héctor Alterio), a wealthy businessman and lawyer with close ties to the military junta, had adopted a baby girl named Gaby (Analia Castro).

Alicia starts wondering about the real parents of Gaby, a topic her husband has told her to forget as it was a condition of the adoption. Yet, he knows the story of his daughter's adoption. While hard to believe, Alicia, as other members of the Argentine middle class, are not aware of how much killing and suffering has gone on the country, until her students begin to complain that the "government approved" History books given to them were written by the regime's "assassins".

After Ana (Chunchuna Villafañe), Alicia's long time friend, returns from her exile in Europe, Alicia begins to do some serious political and personal research on her own. Ana had been tortured by ultra-right paramilitary forces loyal to the brutal Argentine regime for having lived with a so-called subversive man.

Alicia learns the identity of Gaby's grandmother, Sara (Chela Ruiz), who reveals the identity of the girl's disappeared parents. She finds out that her husband played a major role in the regime's repression and participated in intensive dealings with foreign business representatives. At a family dinner, Roberto has an intense political argument with his anarchist father and brother, where he espouses the political point of view of the ruling conservative military elite, and his father and brother argue from the side of social justice.

The film suggests that Sara may not actually be Gaby's real grandmother, and briefly explores the fact that Gaby's true family may never be known. This juxtaposition of fact and emotion are meant to evoke the mood of hope and hopelessness in reaction to a war environment.

The film ends with a confrontation between Alicia and her husband. He wants her to forget about the past and look to the future. Upon his arrival, Roberto is told that Gaby is not home. In response to his inquiry, Alicia responds: "how does it feel not knowing where your child is?". Although she tells him that Gaby is at his mother's house, he becomes enraged and assaults her, but is interrupted by the telephone ringing. He answers it, and starts talking to his mother. Alicia gets her purse to leave, indicating that she no longer can live with him.

The audience is left to wonder if Alicia will return Gaby to her real family or leave her with Roberto. The final shot of the film shows Gaby sitting in a wicker rocking chair at her adopted grandparents' house, singing a nursery rhyme.


  • Héctor Alterio as Roberto Ibáñez
  • Norma Aleandro as Alicia Marnet de Ibáñez
  • Chunchuna Villafañe as Ana
  • Hugo Arana as Enrique
  • Guillermo Battaglia as José
  • Chela Ruiz as Sara
  • Patricio Contreras as Benítez
  • María Luisa Robledo as Nata
  • Aníbal Morixe as Miller
  • Jorge Petraglia as Macci
  • Analía Castro as Gaby
  • Daniel Lago as Dante
  • Augusto Larreta as General


Norma Aleandro, as Alicia, seeking the truth.

The film is based on the real political events that took place in Argentina after Jorge Rafael Videla's reactionary military junta assumed power in March 24, 1976. During the junta's rule, the parliament was suspended; unions, political parties and provincial governments were banned; and, in what became known as the Dirty War, between 9,000 and 30,000 people deemed left-wing "subversives" disappeared from society.[3]

Like many progressive actors and others in the country, the lead actress in the film, Norma Aleandro, was forced into exile during this time. She traveled to Uruguay first and Spain later. She returned after the fall of the military government in 1983.[4] Aleandro once said, "Alicia's personal search is also my nation's search for the truth about our history. The film is positive in the way it demonstrates that she can change her life despite all she is losing."[5]

The Official Story can be considered alongside a group of other films that were the first to be made in Argentina after the downfall in 1983 of the last Argentine dictator, General Galtieri, and his autocratic regime. These films deal frankly with the repression, the torture, and the disappearances during Argentina's Dirty War in the 1970s and early 1980s; they include Funny Little Dirty War (1983) and Night of the Pencils (1986). A second group of films, which includes Verónico Cruz (1988) uses metaphor and hints at wider socio-political issues.[6][7]


At first, director Puenzo, fearing for his safety, intended to shoot the film in secret, using hidden 16mm cameras. But the junta government fell right about the time the screenplay was completed.[8]

The film was entirely shot in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, including the Plaza de Mayo where the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo congregated in the late 1970s with signs and pictures of desaparecidos who were subjected to forced disappearance by the Argentine military in the Dirty War. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo continue to protest every Thursday afternoon at 3:30 pm to this day.

Critical reception

Chunchuna Villafañe and Norma Aleandro as Ana and Alicia.

The film won many awards when first released and, as such, the drama was widely well received in the 1980s. Walter Goodman, film critic for The New York Times, believes the film was well balanced, and wrote, "Mr. Puenzo's film is unwaveringly committed to human rights, yet it imposes no ideology or doctrine. The further miracle is that this is the 39-year-old director's first feature film."[9]

Critic Roger Ebert lauded the film in his film review, writing, "The Official Story is part polemic, part thriller, part tragedy. It belongs on the list with films like Z, Missing and El Norte, which examine the human aspects of political unrest. It is a movie that asks some very hard questions...Alicia is played in the movie by Norma Aleandro, whose performance won the best actress award at this year's Cannes Film Festival. It is a performance that will be hard to forget, particularly since so much of it is internal. Some of the key moments in the film come as we watch Aleandro and realize what must be taking place inside her mind, and inside her conscience. Most political films play outside the countries that they are about; "The Official Story" is now actually playing in Argentina, where it must be almost unbearably painful for some of the members of its audiences. It was almost as painful for me."[10]

Film critics Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, of the website Spirituality and Practice, were painfully touched by the story they viewed. They write, "The Official Story is a wrenching and painful drama that crystallizes the horror and the obscenity of political activities that annihilate family solidarity in the name of ideology...The Official Story packs a shattering visceral punch."[11]

Critic Ken Hanke of the North Carolina Mountain Xpress finds fault with the story, which he felt at times played out like a soap opera, but argues that it is still close to being a textbook example of how to use a personal story to tell and illuminate a much larger view. He believes that Alicia's political awakening is what gives the film "its strength and its resonance."[12]

A few critics were dismissive of the story Puenzo tells. For example, The Chicago Reader's Dave Kehr thought "Puenzo's methods are so crudely manipulative...that the film quickly uses up the credit of its good intentions."[13]


The Official Story first opened in Argentina on April 3, 1985. It has also been featured at various film festivals including the Toronto Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival, the Cannes Film Festival, and the Mar del Plata Film Festival.




  • Academy Awards: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen; 1985.
  • Cannes Film Festival: Golden Palm, Luis Puenzo; 1985.
  • Sant Jordi Awards: Sant Jordi Award; Best Foreign Actress, Norma Aleandro; 1987.

See also


  1. ^ Channel 4 film review.
  2. ^ Time Out London. Time Out Film Guide 13, 2007.
  3. ^ The Vanished Gallery.
  4. ^ Curran, Daniel. Cinebooks: Foreign Films, McPherson's Publishing: 1989, page 132.
  5. ^ Blommers, Thomas J. "Social and Cultural Circularity in La historia oficial," California State University-Bakersfield.
  6. ^ Cinergía movie file by Cristina Molano-Wendt, Amy Bianchi, Shannon Tierny, and Brian Sabella. For educational purposes.
  7. ^ new internationalist. Issue 192, February 1989.
  8. ^ Curran, Daniel. Ibid, page 133.
  9. ^ Goodman, Walter. The New York Times, "Argentine Love and Lost", November 8, 1985.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sun-Times, film review, November 11, 1985. Last accessed: January 8, 2008.
  11. ^ Brussat, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Spirituality and Practice, film review. Last accessed: January 8, 2008.
  12. ^ Hanke, Ken. North Carolina Mountain Xpress, film review.
  13. ^ Kehr, Dave. The Chicago Reader, film review.
  14. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Official Story". Retrieved 2009-06-28. 

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Dangerous Moves
Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film
Succeeded by
The Assault
Preceded by
A Passage to India
Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film
Succeeded by
The Assault

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