“Mothers” is a powerful oral history of one branch of Argentina’s Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo — the white-headscarfed women seeking justice for their childen, who disappeared under the 1970s military dictatorship in Argentina. Though there is much documentary work already available on the subject, pic is personal enough to bring across their pain and political enough to give auds unfamiliar with the material a first-rate intro to a still uncomfortable recent chapter in Latin American history. That it is also testament to human solidarity could make it of interest to fests beyond Latino territories.
Docu, structured so that its 17 interviewees take us chronologically from the 1950s bombings of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires through to the disappointments of the present democracy, is built around a memorial service for three of their comrades who were assassinated. The first interviewee accepts that they have all been interviewed many times, but the technique of permitting the women to discuss only their personal experiences means the interviews here are far more than merely anecdotal.
Among the transcendent notions explored over an intense film: that it is easier to mourn a dead person than one who has “been disappeared”; that under certain conditions, thinking is a crime in itself; that revenge and justice must not be confused; and that the word screamed most by people under torture is “mother.”
The articulateness of the women, combined with the precision of their recollections, means that often the accompanying footage, of which there is a great deal, is not always necessary. Use of folk songs, sometimes behind the interviews, is intrusive.
Names of interviewees are withheld until the credits, enhancing the sense that this is collective, not personal memory. The eagle-eyed will spot old news images of literary hero Jorge Luis Borges and President Jimmy Carter sharing a chuckle with Gen. Rafael Videla, responsible for many of the atrocities.