Alicia (Norma Aleandro) lives a comfortable life with her husband Roberto (H?tor Alterio) and her adopted five-year-old daughter, Gaby (Analia Castro). She teaches history in a boy's prep school and is a stickler for rules, insisting that her students confine classroom discussion and essays to events as they are related in textbooks and official documents ("the official story"). She believes only what she reads but her students have been radicalized by political events and defiantly tell her that "history is written by assassins."

When her old friend, Ana (Chunchuna Villafane), returns after living abroad for several years, Alicia learns that Ana had been held prisoner and tortured for more than a month by members of the former regime, as they attempted to extort from her the whereabouts of her husband, a "subversive." From Ana she learns that many others had been held prisoner, tortured, murdered, and that infants had been taken from their mothers.

When Alicia goes to her classes she encounters street demonstrations demanding the return of the "disappeared." Her well ordered life begins to unravel as she wonders about her adopted child's true origins. She questions her husband, who had arranged for the adoption, but he brushes her off, saying that it is of no concern to her. Not satisfied with this response, she searches hospital records and government archives.

At one of these occasions three women who are searching for "disappeared" relatives overhear and approach her. She becomes increasingly convinced that her daughter must have been taken from a murdered political prisoner. She is grief-stricken at the thought that she might have to give her daughter up but at the same time she empathizes with the unknown relatives who have lost the child; she is in despair.

When Sara (Chela Ruiz), one of the three women, presents to her convincing evidence that Gaby is actually her own granddaughter, Alicia confronts her husband in Sara's presence. Alicia has come to believe that Roberto--an admitted rightist--was duplicitous but he ridicules them both and, after Sara leaves, becomes enraged with his wife, brutally attacking and physically injuring her. She leaves him.


Based on actual events during Argentina's military dictatorship of the 1970s, this powerful film--superbly acted and directed--raises important questions about the individual's obligations to society. As such it is a fitting vehicle for a medical humanities discussion. In addition, there are specific issues about adoption that could also be discussed--questions about origins, disclosure, rights of the birth mother and relatives, rights of the adoptive family, and above all, how all concerned may feel about these issues.

In the film, the child Gaby has an aura of sadness about her that implies subconscious knowledge of the traumatic circumstances surrounding her birth and adoption, or at the least, uncertainty about her origins (she has not been told that she is adopted). In a sense, the film depicts an adoptive family's worst nightmare as well as traumatic circumstances that may give rise to adoption and thus serves metaphorically to highlight the issues surrounding adoption--issues that must be considered and worked through by those directly concerned.


Produced and filmed in Argentina. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Screenplay by Luis Puenzo and Aida Bortnik. This film won the 1985 Academy Award for best foreign film.

Primary Source

Pacific Arts Video