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The Official Story
cast: Norma Aleandro, Héctor Alterio, Chunchuna Villafañe, and Analia Castro

director: Luis Puenzo

114 minutes (15) 1985 widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Arrow / Fremantle DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
Buenos Aires, the early 1980s... Alicia (Norma Aleandro) is a history teacher. She is married to Roberto, a businessman. Unable to have a child naturally, they are the adoptive parents of five-year-old Gaby (Analia Castro). However, Alicia's comfortable lifestyle is disturbed when she hears of children taken away from the thousands of people who 'disappeared' during the rule of General Galtieri's military junta. The children are given away for adoption, and Alicia wonders if her own daughter is one of them.

The Official Story (aka: La historia official - known on its British cinema release as The Official Version) won the 1985 Oscar for best foreign-language film, and was nominated for Puenzo and Aida Bortnik's original screenplay. Norma Aleandro won the best actress prize at Cannes for her moving performance. She has continued to act - she was most recently seen in British cinemas as the senile mother in the 2001 film Son Of The Bride - but mostly in Spanish-language films. No doubt the roles for middle-aged Hispanic actresses in Hollywood were not thick on the ground. Luis Puenzo went to America to make 1989's Old Gringo, but his career came unstuck with 1992's The Plague, an adaptation of the Albert Camus novel starring William Hurt which was a box-office disaster: it went straight to video in the UK.

There's no doubting the skill with which The Official Story is made, nor the quality of the acting. The subject matter was certainly pressing at the time. But somehow this film fails to move, or to inspire as much as it should. There's a sense of worthiness hanging over it, as if dealing with an undoubtedly significant subject is enough. Unfortunately it isn't. This is no doubt a personal call, and for Latin Americans especially it may well hit close to home.

Unfortunately Arrow's DVD is poor. The picture is letterboxed into the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 but is not anamorphically enhanced. (Owners of widescreen TV sets would do well to zoom the picture to 16:9.) Worse, the DVD transfer is a NTSC to PAL conversion (the running time, with no four percent speed-up from the cinema time, is a giveaway) with all that implies: the colours are soft and lack vibrancy, and there's frequent ghosting. This will be particularly noticeable on progressive-scan equipment such as PC monitors and newer television sets.

The soundtrack is the original mono, in Spanish. The subtitles are in yellow and can't be removed, though the latter will only be an issue if you can understand Spanish. There are no extras at all.

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