Don’t take democracy for granted, warns director of Argentine junta film

Don’t take democracy for granted, warns director of Argentine junta film

Comments at Venice film festival come after recent failed assassination attempt on Argentina’s vice-president

Santiago Mitre at the Venice film festival

A failed assassination attempt this week on the Argentine vice-president has shown that democracy cannot be taken for granted, the director behind a courtroom drama about the trial of Argentina’s military junta has said.

Opening at the Venice film festival on Saturday, Santiago Mitre’s Argentina 1985 follows the prosecutors who, despite death threats and enormous legal difficulties, brought members of Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship to trial in 1985.

The trial is considered one of the most significant in modern history, and is the only time a democratic government has launched a large-scale judicial assault on a country’s former dictatorial rulers. The case proved a watershed for Argentina.

Speaking at a press conference before the premiere, Mitre said Thursday’s attack on vice-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Buenos Aires, when an assailant’s gun failed to discharge, was a “horrible act that we never thought could happen because we believed that the trial of 1985 had put an end to the idea of using violence to resolve political conflict”.

His film, he added, “has taken on a vitality we did not see coming”.

Police arrested a Brazilian man after the attempt on Fernández de Kirchner’s life but have not given a possible motive for the attack.

Argentina 1985 portrays the struggle of chief prosecutor Julio Strassera, played by Ricardo Darín, and his young legal team racing to gather evidence before the trial starts of nine members of the old military junta. It also stars Santiago Armas, Alejandra Flechner, Peter Lanzani, Laura Paredes and Carlos Portaluppi.

Mitre uses some of the original testimony presented to court, including a woman forced to give birth in the back of a police car surrounded by laughing thugs, and mothers whose children were abducted and never returned home.

“I experienced the dictatorship when I was an adolescent at school,” said Flechner, who plays Strassera’s wife. “The preparation [for the role] was somehow tattooed on my body. It was something I had already experienced.”

As many as 30,000 people disappeared under Argentina’s military dictatorship, according to human rights groups, although determining precise figures remains a topic of debate.

The Spanish-language film was produced by Amazon and is one of five movies destined for streaming platforms that are competing alongside 18 other pictures for the coveted Golden Lion award at Venice.

Laced with humour, but paced like a thriller, it is the first time that anyone has made a film of the so-called Trial of the Juntas, which revealed the scale of atrocities committed during military rule.

“This trial was the way to build a new country, a new way of seeing politics based on respect for the institutions and respect for humanity,” said Mitre. “This has continued to this day and I think it is one of the things that should make us feel proud as Argentines.”