Political Film Society - Newsletter #263 - December 1, 2006

December 1, 2006


CautivaFrom 1976-1983, some 30,000 persons who were arrested on orders of the Argentine military junta disappeared without a trace. Some of the missing persons, perhaps as many as 500, were pregnant women. Their children were adopted by those loyal to the junta but never told about their birthparents. As of the end of 2006, some 85 children have been found by their birthfamilies, though many adoptive parents have taken their children out of Argentina to avoid court-ordered reunions. Cautiva is a story about one such family reunion in 1994, though the protagonist, Cristina Quadri (played by Bárbara Lombardo), is a fictional person based on a composite of the 40 or so children whom director Gastón Biraben interviewed in making the movie. The story begins with film footage of the day when Argentina won the world soccer championship in 1979, then jumps to Cristina’s fifteenth birthday. Next, she goes to school, where a classmate, Angélica (played by Mercedes Funes), importunes her teacher concerning the injustice of the amnesty power now wielded by the Argentine president despite trial and conviction of members of the former junta for unspeakable crimes. After being summoned to take a blood test, Cristina is summoned from school to a private room in a court, where a judge informs her that her blood matches a different parentage from those who have claimed to be her parents during all her life. Shocked, she dashes out of the government building, seeking refuge with her adoptive parents, but she is again taken from them by the authorities to live with her birthgrandmother under her birthname Sofía Lombardi. In short, she feels that she is a teenager being taken captive (hence the title) by the government, just as she was from birth. In her quest to bring some order to her troubled state, her birthrelatives inform her details about her birthparents, and she learns a similar tale from Angélica after an athletic competition in which the two girls are on opposite teams. When she confronts her adoptive parents, she receives confirmation that she was adopted, and for the first time she realizes that her adoptive father, a retired police office, was an underling of the man who was responsible for the disappearance of her birthparents. Her adjustment to the new reality, the main theme of Cautiva, is a paradigm of Argentine politics today. The military, discredited in part by its defeat in the Falkland/Malvinas Islands war with Britain in 1982, gave way to a democratic government in 1983 on condition that those involved in the “dirty war” would be granted amnesty. However, in 2005 the amnesty was struck down by the Argentine Supreme Court, and Henry Kissinger, who in the film’s documentary footage is shaking hands with the head of the junta in 1978, is now wanted for questioning in Buenos Aires. Cautiva has been nominated by the Political Film Society for an award as best film exposé and best film on the need for democracy and for the observance of human rights of 2006. MH

Fast Food NationThe formidable challenge facing viewers of Fast Food Nation, directed by Richard Linklater, is whether they can see the film and continue to patronize fast food restaurants or ever eat meat again. There is much more than lettuce, tomato, and a pickle between the two buns of the “Big One,” the movie’s depiction of the “Big Mac,” from the beginning to the end of the film. What one learns is a host of unpleasant facts about the $330 billion fast food industry. Cows are herded into pens of a single megacompany in a fictional Cody, Colorado, fed genetically modified food, produce more urine and feces than the entire city of Denver, are slaughtered by underpaid illegal immigrants who work under unsafe conditions, and then fecal contamination and artificial ingredients go into beef patties, which contribute directly to obesity. One story revolves around the neverending trek of illegal aliens into the United States who become untrained workers at the slaughterhouse, encountering so much stress that some take drugs to keep going, fearful that they cannot otherwise meet production demands. A second story involves management’s search for the source of the fecal contamination, a trail that leads from a phony tour of a slaughterhouse to a cynical meat inspector. The third story involves work at a fast food restaurant, where employees wear uniforms, read from a script written by management, and occasionally spit into the food to exhibit some individuality. A fourth story is derived from the panorama of fast food restaurants and megastores that litter the streets of a small town which presumably once had some character. The final story is about students who want to do something about cruelty to animals, which are kept prisoner behind fences while wallowing in their excrement. The most politically aware characters are college students. When preparation of a protest letter is nixed because the industry has secured political cover by appropriate campaign contributions that buy off government officials, the idea emerges that the fences should be cut so that the cattle can roam free on the range, fully aware that their ecoterrorist act may violate the Patriot Act, which they note can be applied to those engaging in traditional civil disobedience (perhaps thinking of peace groups that have been under FBI surveillance). However, when the students do so, the cattle refuse to run free, so they are back at square one. Among the many quotable epigrams in the film, perhaps the most biting is “This isn't about good people versus bad people. This is about the machine that's taken over the country." For a film that exposes immigrant exploitation and corporate manipulation of the political system, based on the nonfiction book of the same title by Eric Schlosser (à la Upton Sinclair’s 1906 classic Jungle that brought about the formation of the Food and Drug Administration), the Political Film Society has nominated Fast Food Nation for an award as best film exposé of 2006. MH