“History isn’t made by guys like me.”
Justice is often elusive when it involves those who have abused great power. Santiago Mitre’s film Argentina, 1985 is inspired by the true story of the prosecution of the military dictators that ruled Argentina in a violent period, during which many were kidnapped, tortured, killed, raped, or disappeared. Could those in charge of this reign of terror be brought to justice? The film calls the Trial of the Juntas “the most important trial in Argentina’s history”, and “the most important trial since Nuremberg”. Argentina, 1985 is Argentina’s official submission for Best International Feature Oscar consideration.
After a democratic government came to power after seven years of military rule, the government wanted the military leaders tried. The leaders of the Junta declared that they could only be tried by a military court. But when the military powers refused to bring charges, it fell to the civilian courts to take jurisdiction, calling the national prosecutor, Julio César Strassera (Ricardo Darín) to bring a case to the court.
It was not something he looked forward to. Most believed the case was unwinnable and didn’t want to be associated with it. Others of experience supported the fascist ideals of the dictatorship. He was supported by his young, enthusiastic deputy, Luis Moreno Ocampa (Peter Lanzani). They recruit a number of young, very inexperienced attorneys to help them build a case. They spend months gathering testimony from victims around the country to show that this was a systematic genocide that could only happen if supported by those at the top.
Although many in the public supported this trial, many others (including Moreno Ocampa’s mother) thought the military had saved the country from terrorists and revolutionaries. The military leaders said that they were fighting a war. For them the end justified the means, even if innocent people were harmed in the process. When the trial commences in the film, we hear snippets from some of the over 800 witnesses who testified in the case. The stories they bring are horrendous. But will law and justice be able to prevail?
The film is not just a history lesson or a courtroom drama. It allows us to consider whether the pursuit of justice is a worthy endeavor even when it seem likely to be futile. Those involved in the prosecution faced threats to themselves and their families. Those who had been victimized by the dictatorship had to relive their pain yet again. Nothing the court could do would restore the lives that were lost or ruined. Failure to convict could empower future despots who could act without fear of answering to justice. Justice is often elusive. But God calls God’s people to seek justice always.
Of course, such fascist forces are not limited to Argentina. In countries around the world, including in Europe and the US, far right parties are thriving. Sometimes terrorism is not limited to revolutionaries. Often those in power use their power as a form of terrorism. The Trial of the Juntas is worth remembering for the power justice holds in the world.
Argentina, 1985 is streaming on Prime Video.
Photos courtesy of Amazon Studios.