A Twelve-Year Night (La noche de 12 anos)


The level of a society’s degree of civilization is measured by the contents of its prisons.

(2018) True Life Drama (Netflix) Antonio de la Torre, Chinese Darin, Alfonso Tort, Cesar Troncoso Soledad Villamil, Silvia Pérez Cruz, César Bordón, Mirella Pascual, Nidia Telles, Eduardo Recabarren, Sofia Gravina, Bianca Gravina, Ana Baltar Peretz, Ilay Kurelovic, Lisandro Fiks, Kornel Dornan, Gustavo Saffores, Juan José Caiella, Luciano Ciaglia, Luis Cao, Luis Mottola, Soledad Gilmet. Directed by Álvaro Brechner

 

The human spirit can withstand just about anything, so long as there is hope. The human spirit is also capable of cruelty that can be staggering in its depths, but even this can be endured – with hope.

In 1972, Uruguay was in the process of losing its democracy to a military junta. A left-wing group known as the Tupamaros were mounting increasingly violent protests against the government. The military chose to eradicate them in brutal fashion, capturing some, killing many.

Three of those captured (there were a total of nine involved but for the purposes of this film they are only concentrating on three) – Jose “Pepe” Mujica (de la Torre), Mauricio Rosencof (Darin) and Eleuterio Fernández Huldobro (Tort) – are put into solitary confinement, not allowed to speak to each other or to their guards. They are occasionally subjected to torture and are often moved around, being used as pawns in a political game. They would endure this situation for twelve years, denied even basic human interaction and often, sunlight. And to think we Americans are about ready to mount an armed revolt after only two months – at home.

This intense film has a difficult task set to it; making an interesting film about men confined to small cells with nothing to do. And damned if Brechner doesn’t do just that. We get a sense of the deprivations that the men lived under and the strength of character it took for them to emerge on the other side of their ordeal with all their marbles intact.

The movie kind of plunges us into the ordeal, starting with the prisoners being carted off to prison without so much as a trial. We don’t really get any sense of who these men were before they ere captured or of their personalities. We know that Mujica had a strong relationship with his mama (Cruz), that Rosencof was an outstanding writer (he became one of Uruguay’s leading poets and playwrights after his release which he remains to this day) and that Huldobro had a love for soccer. It isn’t until near the end of the two-hour film that we really have any sort of handle on these men and their personalities, so be prepared to exhibit a little patience when viewing this.

The movie’s conclusion is powerful and moving; I found myself hard-pressed to stem the flow of tears. It is doubly remarkable to consider that Mujica would go on to become President of Uruguay from 2010-2015. It is an inspiring story and one that is worth the trouble to seek out and take in.

REASONS TO SEE: Very much reminiscent of a Costa-Gavras political thriller. Extremely moving in places. Some of the scenes are remarkably intense.
REASONS TO AVOID: There really isn’t a lot of context as to the various lead characters, especially early on.
FAMILY VALUES: There is both violence and profanity as well as some brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Uruguay’s official submission for the 2019 Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film award.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/25/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Papillon
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Mnemophrenia

The Sharks (Los tiburones)


On the inside looking out.

(2019) Coming of Age Drama (Breaking Glass) Romina Bentancur, Federico Morosini, Fabian Arenillas, Antonella Aquistapache, Valeria Lois, Bruno Pereyra, Jorge Portillo. Directed by Lucia Garibaldi

 

Janis Ian once wrote a song called “At Seventeen,” about a young girl’s awakening to sexuality and objectification, misogyny and emotional heartache. I wasn’t yet 17 when the song came out and I remember being absolutely confused by it; do girls really feel this way? Is this what they go through? No wonder I don’t understand them. If you think understanding the truth at seventeen is no picnic, try doing it at fourteen.

But that’s what faces 14-year-old Rosina (Bentancur), who lives in an Argentine seaside resort. When we first meet her, she’s running away from her home to the beach, chased by her father (Arenillas). We learn that she has injured her older sister Marianna (Aquistapache) who needs stitches near her eye. Rosina claims she didn’t mean it, but her diffident behavior makes you wonder if she did. As the two leave, Rosina sees a dorsal fin come out of the water. Could it be a shark? Nobody believes that it is; sharks are apparently rare in those waters.

Her father decides that Rosina will spend the summer helping him out doing maintenance on a resort – sweeping the debris off the tennis courts, pruning shrubs and so forth. She takes a shine to Joselo (Morosini), an older boy who is supplementing his fishing income by working for Rosina’s dad. In turn, Joselo has an interest in Rosina but it’s purely sexual. They meet at the garage where Joselo hangs out; he masturbates and she watches, but ignores his please for her to touch herself. Finally, he gives up and seems to lose interest in her.

But she doesn’t lose interest in him. She tries a number of different ways to keep his attention, but his focus seems on hanging out with his mates, playing soccer and trying to hook up with someone older. In the meantime, a seal carcass has washed up on the beach and the fishermen, whose livelihood could be decimated by a shark, start taking her story seriously.

Bentancur gives Rosina a perpetually bored, morose expression as if she is far above what is going on around her but at the same time can’t be bothered to change her circumstances. She is isolated within her own family group; her self-absorbed mother (Lois) is trying to start up an online beautician business without a basic understanding of computers, much to Rosina’s eye-rolling bemusement. Marianna, who is stressed out over a college entrance exam, she can’t stand and her little brother is beneath her notice. She spends most of her attention on Joselo and exploring her burgeoning sexuality, sometimes in graphic terms that might make the average guy squirm. Rosina feels like a real teenage girl, with all the maddening drama and emotional fallout that implies.

Garibaldi often places the camera behind Rosina, who never so much as cracks a smile until the movie’s final shot, almost as if we’re following her around like a documentary crew. She often uses wide shots to expand the distance around Rosina, even in interiors. We feel her isolation nearly from the get-go.

The pace is very deliberate and there isn’t a whole lot of action, so this is the kind of movie that Gene Siskel might have loved. Those with short attention spans and who are in need of more aggressive stimulation are probably not going to look on this movie kindly. Those who want to get into a character’s world – not inside her head so much because Bentancur gives such an internalized performance as Rosina – and who want to experience a certain moment in that character’s life unfiltered will probably delight in this. You’ll have to decide which camp you’re in and choose accordingly.

REASONS TO SEE: Rosina is a fascinating and realistic character.
REASONS TO AVOID: Somewhat slow-moving.
FAMILY VALUES: There are sexual situations, profanity and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  This Sundance world dramatic entry from 2019 is Garibaldi’s first feature film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/15/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mystic Pizza
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
The Legend of Swee’ Pea