Original title: Infancia clandestina
Direction: Benjamín Avila
Writers: Marcelo Müller, Benjamín Avila
Cast: Natalia Oreiro, César Troncoso, Teo Gutiérrez Romero, Ernesto Alterio, Cristina Banegas, Romina Michelizzi, Marcelo Mininno, Mayana Neiva, Violeta Palukas
Cinematography: Iván Gierasinchuk
Art direction: Iván Gierasinchuk
Music: Marta Roca Alonso, Pedro Onetto
Runtime: 111 minutes
By Mex Faliero
The last word heard in Clandestine childhood is “Juan”, and the film needs to be seen to know it results from an exemplary correctness. That word, in that moment. Fair terms is precisely what a film like this is looking for. A film sustained in the point of view from a child in order to tell what was happening during the counteroffensive in times of the argentine military dictatorship. That boy, fictional, is not other than the mirror in which the director Benjamin Avila looks to make his first fiction (he made before the documentary Grandchildren), since himself is a son of disappeared and suffered what the protagonist suffers. Clandestine childhood retakes the cinematographic revisionism about the state terrorism in Argentina in the late 70´s and draws on the experience of little John, nicknamed Ernesto, to build a movie about the adolescence and the loss of the innocence. That called by the Americans “coming of age”, which here loses its naïf side because that dreadful context provided by the terror imposed by the military and the life between the darkness of the guerrilla.
Foremost, Clandestine childhood is brave. Of course, Avila uses his own experience to silence any questioning: his eye on the actions of the Montoneros (here, the military State is condemned to an almost total off-screen) moves away from the usual romanticism view towards this time, despite being an idealistic film, to cast doubts and keep away the portrait from the possibility of black or white. No doubts about what happened or the characters, but doubts about our own experience in relation to what is told and how we would have face it. Within this unique universe, the character that opens the tale to other possibilities is the uncle Beto. Montonero as all, but with a look that departs from the structural rigidity of a movement like that (Avila generates interesting parallels between the school and its almost military formalities, and certain methods of the Montoneros), he asks himself if it is possible to build without a particular notion of happiness; put the brain and the heart as muscles which must enter in collision to build that future real and tangible, imagined and dreamed. Without it, estimates, is impossible.
Does that mean Clandestine childhood says that was a mistake? Not precisely. But it does build a situation picture where collide the adult responsibilities and the freedoms a child wish to have when is growing and is finding love. Without detracting the love and affection of those parents, Avila warns that it was not the best place to grow. The film works remarkably, and let´s forget for a moment its subject, the teen love.
We talked about bravery, and Clandestine childhood is also fearless when it clashes with an official historical narrative that seems to be afraid of words like “guerrilla”. Here, is not only said, but accepted and given a specific weight. And at the same time polemicizes, when it constantly works on that need of the alias and the suppression of identity forced by the situation, presenting it as a great paradox: the fight for the restitution of the identity of the children of disappeared is precisely one of the main and fairest that Argentina has today. That is why we return to the “Juan” of the end and its correctness, not only in the narrative sense, but also expositive: is not Ernesto who lives the life of another, but John who decides to live his own. To decide. To grow (with no one to cut you that possibility) and tell it. This movie is about that special growth, unique and untransferable.