Kamchatka review

:. Director: Marcelo Piñeyro
:. Starring: Cecilia Roth, Ricardo Darin
:. Running Time: 1:43
:. Year: 2003
:. Country: Argentina

Kamchatka, Argentina's entry for Best Foreign Language Film, is a heartrending drama set during Argentina's dirty war in 1976.

Life during that time is described by a 10 year-old boy who sees the immediate effects of a dictatorship on his family. His parents, a lawyer (Ricardo Darin) and scientist (Cecilia Roth) do their best to protect their two sons by leaving Buenos Aires and living clandestinely in the countryside. They change their identities and sleep with one eye open, always waiting.

Given that so many thousands of people disappeared during this time, it's heartbreaking to watch a family's final weeks together. From dancing in the living room to gazing under the stars at night, a sense of foreboding permeates the movie, though the film is not without great moments of happiness. At the same time families reunite, as the son knows more than he lets on to his parents, filling in his estranged grandfather that both parents have lost their jobs and that some colleagues have been killed. The brutal reality of their lives and country is visible on the grandfather's face and it becomes apparent that the hatchet must now be buried.

The cinematography is gorgeous, and the Argentine countryside looks like a fairytale, all the more distressing given the killing and torture that occurred. The terror they feel is shown in little vignettes of family life. There is intentionally a lack of discussion about politics, but how the youngest son is stressed is shown by his return to bedwetting. When the older son, missing his best friend, decides to take the train into Buenos Aires, he is rejected by his pal's mother, who looks at him as if he were a Jew knocking on her door in the middle of Nazi Berlin. The "save yourself" mentality has taken hold in the country.

Cecilia Roth gives a tragic performance as a woman determined to keep her family together in the face of a brutal dictatorship, while Ricardo Darin forcefully shows the head of a household trying to save his family without losing his sense of justice. Actor Matias del Pozo, as a child who quickly learns what being an adult is while letting his parents believe that he has kept some of his innocence offers a commendable performance.

The film is much more emotionally compelling given that some of the hardest scenes take place offscreen, from what happens to those targeted by a dictatorship or the significance of the word Kamchatka. The generation of children who lost family members during the seventies are now adults who can voice their pain and ask for justice when too many of the guilty were granted amnesty for their crimes. "Palabras para Julia", which serves as a theme song, reminds this generation that they must still live their lives and not only focus on the barbarism of their government.

The power in Kamchatka lies in the way that the focus is on family, that as the core of any society, loses the most under dictatorship.

From the looks of it, the 2004 Academy Awards will have a hard time narrowing down the entries for Best Foreign Film to a mere five. With Kamchatka and Sexual Dependency, the Argentines and the Bolivians have their foot in the door.

  Anji Milanovic

     Movie Reviews: Argentinian Films
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