In both El Norte and Oscar-winning The Official Story, women occupy the key roles and form the stories. These are the stories of women and their families caught up in a particular moment in time. The films deal with the issue of womens position in society. Both El Norte and The Official Story are examples of how to make a personal story to tell and illuminate a larger one. Thus, the audience sees through very intimate stories all the tragedies and disasters of a group of people or even the whole nation. In spite of the fact that The Official Story and El Norte tell the stories of people from Argentina or Guatemalan and are supposed to touch the people from certain country only, the issues touched in the films are universal, as the people of other nations find them painful as well.
The Official Story is set in Argentina in the eightieth, a time period that followed the one known as the Dirty War, a campaign of torture and killings that has sent thousands of those who were accused as political leftists to unmarked graves. Children were taken from their subversive parents and given to childless families of those who followed the military regime. The Official Story is based on the real political events that took place in Argentina. Between nine thousands and thirty thousands of people called left-wing subversives suddenly disappeared from society. What is interesting, the lead actress in The Official Story, like many progressive people and actors in the country during this time, was forced into exile and returned after the fall of the military government (Curran 132).
Similar to other members of the middle class, Alicia is not aware of the amount of suffering and killing that has gone on in Argentina. However, that fact that she does not dig deeper into political situation of her country and never asks questions, can be explained by the fact that Alicia subconsciously considers it to be mens part. Alicia stayed above politics, however, her innocence comes to an end. She makes a journey toward moral identification and responsibility, violated by circle of associates of her husband.
On the fifth birthday of Gaby, Alicia wonders about the real parents of her adopted child. However, she was told to ignore this question by her husband, even though it seems that he knows the story of their daughters adoption. Knowing her place within the society and her family, the woman did not ask many questions. In general, women are disposed to live in illusion and rarely see the real picture of the world. Alicia does not see clearly the man she lives with, as well as the society that influences her every move.
In fact, Alicia undergoes a surprising transformation. At the beginning, the main heroine is the unquestioning carrier of the official history of the recent past of Argentina. At home, she is a happy mother. At work, Alicia mechanically teaches history, according to the script approved by officials, and blames teachers who foster creativity and freedom, rather than discipline and order. Alicias historical vision is strictly limited by the official story.
Only after hearing Anas confession that included the story of the children taken away from their parents in jail, the main heroine begins to think that her own parents may have been arrested in the same way. As a woman, Alicia may trust only another woman, as she condoles with her pain. In this scene, Ana stands with her eyes closed and is crying, while Alicia stands behind her with opened eyes. It is a symbol of how the main heroine stands behind the truth of the situation and yet has no idea what is right or wrong. Alicia is terrified, however, at the same time, she is thinking. This scene directly illustrates that the woman does not know the violence and cruelty that exist in her country and her own home.
However, as the film unfolds, Alicias vision of the past and life become deeply disturbed by her empathy. In the light of her research, Alicia is struck by the pain of the mothers and grandmothers who demonstrate daily in the Plaza de Mayo for their missing childrens return. Finally, her perspective widens. As Alicia learns more about these women of several generations who suffered but have been presented invisible and silent by the official story, she finally confronts her own blind involvement and her husbands awareness of their oppression. Although Alicia tells her husband that their daughter is at her mothers house, he assaults her. Kornfeld adds, the door that she closes on her old life reverberates as that of Noras in A Dolls House a century before (23). The films story is positive in the way The Official Story demonstrates that one woman can change her life in spite of all the things she is losing. The personal search of Alicia also symbolizes the search for the truth of the whole nation about its true history and the tragedy of its falsification.
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The Official Story is firmly committed to human rights and rights of women while imposing no doctrine or ideology. The line of female characters such as Alicia (mother), Gaby (daughter), Ana (victim), Gabys grandmother symbolize women of different age, social position, heritage, income, etc. who became victims of male-dominated society, which is represented by Alicias husband and Argentine government that are supposed to protect those who are weaker. In patriarchal society, men are given enormous strength in order to provide comfortable conditions to those whom they are responsible for, however, they do not. In The Official Story, men who work for government or are it areblinded by their power but they want to gain more and more of it and control each and every aspect of the lives of other people.
In addition, through the character of Alicia, the specific issues about adoption are discussed such as disclosure, questions about origins, rights of the birth mother, as well as relatives, rights of the family that adopted a child, and what is more important, how all concerned may feel about such issues.
The film is partially tragedy, thriller and polemic, all in one. The Official Story belongs on the list with films like, for instance, El Norte, as both these films examine the human aspects of political troubled condition and ask very difficult questions.
Furthermore, both El Norte and The Official Story touch the issues concerning family. For years, keeping a family together and keeping love in it have been the main duties of a woman. The main heroines of these films face substitution of family values within society. In The Official Story, family solidarity becomes annihilate by horrifying and obscene political activities in the name of ideology. El Norte is a powerful statement about family, as well as the strength one can draw from this connection. The main characters find adjusting to another culture without losing the family values with which they have raised real problems.
Womens perspective used in The Official Story and El Norte reminds of childrens one. Alike to children, women see the world naively and trust those who have taken responsibility for them. However, women have a strong sense of responsibility for their home and family. When a man expresses no emotions, a woman cries or even has a hysteria. Women are more sensitive and fragile, thus, presenting the events from their perspective is more emotional.
El Norte is a powerful statement about the situation that was taking place in Central America during a time when most people of the United States lived in belief of that their government was tricking them. El Norte is a rare film, as it grants Latin Americans full humanity. El Norte is not in any way political. At the same time, the film is often criticized for its melodrama, however,Ebert argues that, the lives of many poor people are melodrama from birth to death. It takes a lot of money to insulate yourself in a less eventful, more controllable, life (1). The story of El Norte is far beyond the racist propaganda, as it views Hispanics immigrants not as objects of disdain but as humans. The film puts its viewers in the places of the illegal immigrants that allows them to experience emotions of the characters in their struggle to survive in a foreign country.
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The story of El Norte is seen through the eyes of its heroes, a brother and a sister. The main problem of Enrique and Rosa is that the American Dream is closed to them on legal basis. The life of Enrique and Rosa in the United States is a series of short moments of happiness intermixed with fear, disillusionment uncertainty and insecurity. They live under the threat of malicious co-workers and immigration authorities. Enrique and Rosa want to be good Americans and that is why they learn English. However, this story is not about how to become an undocumented worker, it is about what it means to be a human and about people in general.
Director Gregory Nava paints Enriques and Rosas searches for better life in symbols and colors that suggest a purity of their spirits, contrasting with brutal reality; it is also a reflection of their naive view of reality with the reality the pair finds. Enriques and Rosas infectious optimism and naivety make the viewers be protective of them. Rosas naivety is illustrated, for instance, when Rosa listens to advice of her confidant on how to deal with the gringos that sounded like, Just smile and say yes to whatever they say, she gets into a comic situation. She tries to smile and says yes to her employer who confronts Rosa with a complicated automatic washing machine, however, finally surrenders, and spreads the laundry out on the grass, in order to dry it in the sun. This scene serves as a metaphor for how these Central American refugees make efforts to cope with life in the United States. The way Rosa dries the clothes reminds of what she used to do in her homeland.
Enrique and Rosa behave according to a patriarchal moral pattern. The individualistic values of America, as well as feminism, are strange to them. There is an interesting scene in the film where Rosa stands by the window and stares at the woman outside sitting in a beautiful car. She is a driver, not a passenger. Even more, she signals, and it becomes obvious that she has been waiting for a man who takes a sit of a passenger. Here takes place a clash of cultures patriarchal Guatemalan and feministic American ones. Rosa has been taught to be submissive and dependent on men, however, in America, she faces a need to be independent and take care of herself.
In El Norte, religion, land and family are betrayed. For years, women were the keepers of these values and passed them from generation to generation. However, Rosa betrays them. There is a scene where Rosa walks through the town nervous due to a growing sense of guilt. The heroine enters into a church, in order to offer candles to the Virgin Mary: to her father and mother, and a third one to the village. Thus, Rosa clearly betrays her ties with religion, land and family. Outside the church, the girl covers herself with a scarf with her hands trembling. Rosa meets two old women, and one of them asks Rosa, Where are you going? Rosa hesitates and is unable to articulate an answer. Rosa abruptly cuts her ties with her past and her old self.
As a result, betraying her values and duties, Rosas guilt grows and worsens her condition. Her main fear is to be accused of an impurity, caused not by a physical disease, however, by her mental condition of guilt and shame, when the doctor only wants to find out whether the girl has contracted a contagious disease. Rosa has not only abandoned her land, the girl has pushed herself in a foreign society. Rosas uneasiness is growing in the belief of chastisement. She views suffering as a price for abandoning of ethical meanings, – if one suffers, if one is ill, if one fails, if one dies, it is because he or she has sinned. Rosas mortal disease requires Enrique to make a choice between the duties he has of his sister, and his own future; the choice Enrique makes defines who the human being is. The compassionate feminine sensitivity of Enrique grows with the death of his sister. Enrique is healed from his ambition and selfishness, as he forgives the world that destroyed Rosa.
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Another film about women who become empowered is the film called Camila, and, obviously, it is a not a simple love story. Similar to The Official Story and El Norte, the film offers an insight into the role held by women, however, those of Buenos Aires in the nineteenth century. Similar to Alicia, the main heroine is not poor; she is the daughter of a prominent family during the dictatorship of de Rosas in Argentina. Camila is portrayed as an assertive, intelligent, and passionate woman. The main heroine knows definitely what she wants and is ready to get it even if it will mean defying her family, social canon and the Church. In contrast to Alicia, Camila has other reasons to defy everything. Camila defies her family, society and the church when the woman elopes with her priest and lover Ladislao Gutierrez. In the scene where Camila is executed, it becomes obvious that the rights of women are still being restrained and that womens voices are still waiting to be heard.
Argentina is one of the most patriarchal countries in the world. That is why there are double standards for men and women. Similar to the creators of The Official Story, thecreators of Camila wanted to give women a voice, in spite of that Camila and other women in Argentina did not have.
Camila does a great job in demonstrating the patriarchal power of Camillas father Adolfo OGorman who held it not only over his daughter but the other women of the household as well. One of such examples occurs for the first time when mother of Adolfo arrives at the house. He does not greet her with the love and respect of a son to the woman who gave him life, however, he meets her as a man who meets a woman who has disgraced her country, her family as well as herself. Adolfo does not say something like welcome home. Instead, he tells his mother that he has a hope that she enjoys her confinement. Adolfo represents that part of society that believes that women have their place to stay and they ought to stay there. Therefore, the actions of his mother and daughter, eventually, go against everything elite society and Adolfo himself believe in.
Camila is also subjected to her fathers supremacy. In the scene where she articulates her opinions at the table, Adolfo immediately chastises Camila and sends her away. Then, he turns to his wife and blames her. According to his point of view, Camila is that rebellious because she is not married. If Camila was married, her husband would take control over her and make her comply in what her husband and society expect from a young lady. The role of society in gender relations was prescribed by the elite and what they considered as the proper behavior of women and men. The Church also had an impact on the lives of women, as it viewed women as the creatures that are supposed to be guided towards being devoted women to God and their husbands. Thus, both Alicia and Camila suffer from the violence of men and male-dominant society.
Despite the fact that The Official Story and El Norte tell the stories of people from Argentina or Guatemalan and are supposed to touch the people from certain country, in fact, the issues raised in these films are universal, as the people of other nations find them painful. These films were made, in order to make womens voices heard, and a womans perspective was used as a helping tool. The directors of The Official Story, El Norte and Camila present womens roles of daughters, sisters and mothers within male dominant society and how they suffer from its cruelty in order to change these generally excepted gender roles.