Last year there was a brief article about people who have “disappeared” (re: been kidnapped and murdered) in Brazil since 2007. The number, 9000, is staggering, and the cause is largely narcotics traffickers and police “working” after hours.
The article got me thinking about the military juntas and dictatorships in place in many Latin American countries in the 1970s and 80s. During those years many people “disappeared” as well, but instead of mostly random people off the street, these were political dissidents opposed to their oppressive governments.
There are a number of films that depict various aspects of these dirty histories (in Argentina, the time period is actually referred to as the Dirty War). One of the best known, and the first I ever saw, is The Official Story (1985) from Argentina. Based on actual events, it tells the story of a woman who discovers that her adopted daughter is the child of a disappeared couple. The film does a great job of showing how people allow themselves to remain ignorant of the extent of violence and corruption around them.
A good follow-up to The Official Story is Cautiva (2007). This time the perspective is that of a young girl, Cristina, who is suddenly taken from her school and told she is actually Sofia, the daughter of a disappeared couple. Cristina struggles with her feelings of loyalty to the parents she has always known and loved, and the betrayal she feels at discovering she is not really their daughter.
Imagining Argentina (2003) is based on the novel by Lawrence Thornton. Following the disappearance of his dissident journalist wife, a children’s theatre director discovers he has the ability to “see” the whereabouts and events happening in the lives of disappeared people. Not for the faint of heart, this film, and the novel, reflect the horrific realities of the treatment of the disappeared.
For a slight change in geography, check out Machuca (2004) and Missing (1982), both about the Pinochet years in Chile. And to come full circle back to Brazil, try The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (2006), a film that juxtaposes the horror of the political situation in 1970 Brazil with the energy and excitement felt throughout the country as Pele leads their soccer team to victory in the World Cup, the first to be transmitted live via satellite.
For a couple of films that depict the kind of violence taking place in Brazil today check out City of God (2002) and Manda Bala (Send a Bullet, 2007), a documentary examining the current practice of kidnapping in Brazil.