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Chronicle of an Escape (2005)
November 30, 2007
A Soccer Player's Ordeal in an Argentine Prison
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: November 30, 2007
From an early scene in which a gang of thugs kicks and yells at the frail, cowering mother of a man whose whereabouts they demand to know, Israel Adrián Caetano's film "Chronicle of an Escape" makes your stomach knot in anticipation that worse is to come. Minutes later, as the object of their search, a soccer player named Claudio M. Tamburrini (Rodrigo de la Serna), makes his way home after a game, he is blindfolded and dragged into a car. Taken to a sinister mansion in suburban Buenos Aires, he is thrown into a room with other prisoners who have been rounded up for interrogation.
It is a small relief to discover that the movie, inspired by Mr. Tamburrini's memoir of his 1977 kidnapping and detention by a paramilitary task force working for Argentina's military dictatorship, is relatively restrained in its depiction of torture. We watch prisoners being kicked, verbally abused and repeatedly dunked underwater.
Once the movie establishes that this kind of treatment is a regular occurrence in the notorious Seré Mansion, a secret interrogation center that was later burned down to destroy evidence, it turns its attention to the prisoners' efforts to communicate with one another and to stay alive. Lest we forget that the mansion is a house of horrors, however, we are shown the aftereffects of torture: the gashes, welts and patches of charred flesh on the prisoners' emaciated, naked bodies.
Despite its restraint, "Chronicle of an Escape" is deeply unsettling. Although the events it depicts happened 30 years ago in South America, it inevitably triggers anguished thoughts of Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and extraordinary rendition.
Because "Chronicle of an Escape" doesn't seriously scrutinize Argentine history during the years of the so-called dirty war, when the ruling military junta sought to eliminate anyone deemed hostile, it lacks a stinging moral authority. Among films that remember that dark time, it is eclipsed by "The Official Story," "Night of the Pencils," "Garage Olimpo" and "Imagining Argentina," which are much more painful to watch.
But as a suspenseful drama of captivity and escape, the movie is a carefully paced, persuasively acted thriller. Its first two-thirds observe Claudio's four-month internment, during which he becomes resigned to the idea that he will be killed. Unlike the other captives, he does not belong to a subversive group; midway through the film he discovers to his fury that an acquaintance and fellow prisoner, while under torture, lied and named him as the owner of a mimeograph machine that printed antigovernment leaflets. The message is explicit: Torture may make people talk, but they'll say anything to avoid further abuse. The scene in which he confronts his accuser is one of the movie's saddest.
Claudio is eventually plunked into a large, empty room with several other prisoners. Blindfolded much of the time, they are ordered never to look at their captors. At Christmastime they are treated to a swig of wine and a bite of cake by goons who declare themselves "men of honor." As investigations proceed and prison sentences are handed out, the captives' numbers dwindle along with their hopes.
Eventually Guillermo Fernandez (Nazareno Casero), one of the four remaining captives, hatches an escape plan. The movie reaches a peak of suspense as the four escape through a window, naked in a thunderstorm. The sight of the terrorized, half-starved men scuttling furtively in the middle of the night is far from reassuring. What are they to do now?
"Chronicle of an Escape" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for brutality, torture, nudity and language.
CHRONICLE OF AN ESCAPE
Directed by Israel Adrián Caetano; written (in Spanish, with English subtitles) by Mr. Caetano, Esteban Student and Julián Loyola, based on the book "Pase Libre: La Fuga de la Mansión Seré" by Claudio M. Tamburrini; director of photography, Julián Apezteguia; edited by Alberto Ponce; music by Ivan Wyzsogrod; production designers, Juan Mario Roust and Jorge Ferrari; produced by Oscar Kramer and Hugo Sigman; released by IFC First Take and the Weinstein Company. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes.
WITH: Rodrigo de la Serna (Claudio), Nazareno Casero (Guillermo), Lautaro Delgado (Gallego), Matías Marmorato (El Vasco) and Pablo Echarri (Huguito).