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Captive

A 15-year-old girl is pulled out of her convent school and told that she's really the child of parents killed during Argentina's military dictatorship in the gripping drama, "Captive." In tracing the legacy of state terror in the '70s, helmer Gaston Biraben catches the viewer up in a paradoxical tale. Pic has what it takes to go mainstream for a caring distribbery.

Cast:
Cristina/Sofia - Barbara Lombardo Angelica - Mercedes Funes Elisa - Susana Campos Judge - Hugo Arana Pablo Quadri - Osvaldo Santoro Adela Quadri - Silvia Bayle Nurse - Lidia Catalano

A carefree 15-year-old girl is pulled out of her convent school and told by a federal judge that she’s really the child of parents killed during Argentina’s military dictatorship in the gripping drama, “Captive.” In tracing the legacy of state terror in the ’70s, first-time helmer Gaston Biraben catches the viewer up in a paradoxical tale. Containing a lot more conventional drama and a lot less artiness than the Argentine pics circulating at festivals, pic has what it takes to go mainstream for a caring distribbery. It was judged best film in the Horizons sidebar at San Sebastian.

Pretty Cristina Quadri’s (Barbara Lombardo) upper-middle-class parents have showered her with the best things in life. She seems to be made in their image: a well-groomed, obedient student. She looks askance at Angelica (Mercedes Funes), an outspoken girl who challenges the teacher’s gloss on Argentine history; it’s whispered she’s the daughter of “desaparaceidos” who were made to vanish by the military in the ’70s.

But Cristina’s self-assurance is challenged when she’s suddenly called out of class and taken under escort to a courthouse. A federal judge (Hugo Arana) and social worker tell her they have proof, based on a blood test, that her real name is Sofia Lombardi and she is the daughter of activists who disappeared in the ’70s. Cristina grows panicky and demands a chance to talk to her parents, but the judge forbids it. Instead he introduces her to her birth grandmother, Elisa (Susana Campos). Cristina bolts from the room and runs.

Under the law, however, her foster parents — who begin to appear in a more sinister light — cannot see her without the judge’s permission. She’s forced to move in with Elisa, a kind and cultured woman who has been searching for her since she was born. Though Cristina feels no ties to her new family, she slowly begins to question her identity as she adjusts to a less fancy school and lifestyle. Last part of the film concerns her search to find out the truth about her birth and her parents’ fate.

Unfolding like a well-paced thriller, “Captive” at times feels too obvious in hitting its dramatic marks. There is little surprise in the characters, either: Cristina is good but confused, then determined to discover the truth; Elisa is a warm and sensitive grandma. A little more imagination in the scripting would have raised pic’s profile.

Yet for all its predictability and nods to American movie-making (Biraben studied at the AFI and worked in Hollywood for years as a sound editor), the film conveys the sickening horror of the military dictatorship with far more authenticity than recent attempts like Christopher Hampton’s “Imagining Argentina.” It also brings the problem into the present day, when, it is noted, 74 illegally appropriated children have been found and returned to their birth families. This must be a drop in the bucket, however, if it’s true, as pic’s final note asserts, that some 30,000 people disappeared.

In her screen debut, young Lombardo remains very internalized, going from tame to rebellious without raising her voice. The high-pitched Funes, playing the schoolmate whose eyes have been opened early, is a good contrast. The adult actors seem to have little room to maneuver in more conventional roles, with the exception of Lidia Catalano’s moving recital as the nurse who saw little Sofia come to light under horrifying circumstances.

Tech work, though not particularly innovative, is high quality throughout.

Captive

Argentina

Production: A Cacerolazo Producciones production. Produced by Gaston Biraben. Co-producer, Tammis Chandler. Executive producers, Raul Tosso, Marcelo Altmark. Directed, written by Gaston Biraben.

Crew: Camera (color), Carlos Torlaschi, Abel Penalba; editor, Tammis Chandler; music, Jose Luis Castineira de Dios; production designers, Maria Ibanez Lago, Nora Spivak; costume designers, Romina del Prete, Mercedes Colombo. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Latin Horizons), Sept. 24, 2003. Running time: 115 MIN.

With: Cristina/Sofia - Barbara Lombardo Angelica - Mercedes Funes Elisa - Susana Campos Judge - Hugo Arana Pablo Quadri - Osvaldo Santoro Adela Quadri - Silvia Bayle Nurse - Lidia Catalano

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