One of the most surprising upsets of the Golden Globes on Tuesday night was Argentina, 1985 winning the best non-English language feature honor, beating out the bookies’ favorites, including Netflix’s German war drama All Quiet on the Western Front, Indian box office smash RRR and Cannes festival winners Close and Decision to Leave.
The win of a Golden Globe puts increased awards focus on Santiago Mitre’s historic legal drama, which follows the story of the real-life prosecutors who put Argentine’s military on trial for the crimes of state terrorism committed during the country’s bloody dictatorship.
Argentina, 1985 now looks like a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination in the best international feature category, though its Globes rivals — and critical favorites, including Ireland’s The Quiet Girl, Jerzy Skolimowski’s Polish drama EO and Ali Abbasi’s newly-relevant Iranian feature Holy Spider — will provide stiff competition. But, following the Globes win, Mitre’s movie is clearly Argentina’s best chance in a decade of seizing Oscar glory.
Argentina, 1985 actually has a lot in common with 2010’s best international feature winner Secret in Their Eyes, to date the only Argentine film to win cinema’s top honor. Both are legal dramas that examine the legacy of Argentina’s military dictatorship of the 1970s and early 1980s. And both feature Argentine star Ricardo Darín as a principled prosecutor willing to challenge entrenched authority in his pursuit of justice.
But where Juan José Campanella’s Oscar winner is historically-inspired fiction — the film is adapted from a novel by Eduardo Sacheri — Argentina, 1985 hews tightly to the historic facts. Secret in Their Eyes invents a tale of public prosecutors who spend 25 years tracking down a murder and rapist who goes free after being recruited by Argentina’s secret police to carry out their “dirty war” against political dissidents during the dictatorship. Darín plays the lawyer Benjamin Esposito in a double role: as the idealistic young prosecutor at the start of his career, and as the cynical, world-weary man looking back over his life, trying to figure out what went wrong.
The story is told in the form of a procedural thriller — Campanella cut his teeth on U.S. serialized drama, directing more than a dozen episodes of Law & Order — and the film’s political commentary remains subtle, the setting for the movie’s primary themes of justice and power of memory.
In Argentina, 1985, Mitre follows the more classic mode of historic reconstruction. The movie traces the true story of Julio Strassera (Darín) and Luis Moreno Ocampo, the public prosecutors who, after Argentina’s democracy was restored in 1983, put Argentina’s military on trial for its actions during the dictatorship, which included using death squads to hunt down perceived opponents. Thousands of people were killed or “disappeared.”
Mitre meticulously recreates the period for the film, even going so far as to use the same 1980s pneumatic cameras and lenses to mimic the look and feel of the original trial, which was broadcast live on national TV. Argentina, 1985 is much more clearly making a political statement about the importance of the rule of law in establishing and maintaining democracy.
That message, made all the more timely following the U.S. House Select Committee hearings on the Jan. 6 Capitol attacks, and the more recent storming of the national capital in Brazil, might give Argentina, 1985 the edge with Oscar voters.