We’ve all seen plenty of movies about the brutal legacy of South America’s dirty wars. From Pablo Larraín’s harrowing trilogy about the Pinochet dictatorship, to countless Argentine films by the likes of Luis Puenzo and Marco Bechis, Latin American filmmakers have found their medium to be a particularly effective means of dealing with their countries’ traumatic past. But few films have gone beyond the personal dimension of the torture, disappearances, and brutal repression that wracked the region throughout the 70s and 80s to look at the broader anti-communist conspiracy coordinated by the region’s right-wing intelligence agencies and supported by the CIA. That is, until Mexican filmmaker Carlos Bolado made Olvidados.
Filmed in Bolivia, Chile, and New York, Olvidados follows up on a string of politically-oriented films that have taken Bolado into new career territory following his more spiritually-inclined debut Bajo California: El límite del tiempo (Under California: The Limit of Time) back in 1998. Through the reflections of an aging Bolivian general played by Mexican superstar actor Damián Alcázar, Bolado explores the legacy of the so-called Operation Condor, which led to an estimated total of 50,000 suspected leftists murdered, 30,000 disappeared, and 400,000 arrested, imprisoned, and tortured.
Alcázar plays the fictional José Mendieta, who is compelled to confess his dark past after years of secrecy to an unwitting son in the form of a tell-all letter. Flashing back between past and present, Olvidados comes startlingly close to reality as it dramatizes Mendieta’s persecution of a journalist, his pregnant wife, and their revolutionary friend in the midst of growing social unrest. The English-language trailer gives us a sense of the frenetic energy of the times, transmitted through nervous camera movements, desaturated cinematography, and agile editing that recall political thrillers like The Manchurian Candidate or Costa Gavras’ classic Z. But Olvidados’ take on Latin America’s recent past, with its depth and breadth of historical perspective, ultimately leaves the film in a league of its own.
Despite its Mexican director and star, Olvidados was honored as Bolivia’s official selection for last year’s Academy Awards, though it didn’t quite make the short list. Nevertheless, the film had a solid festival run and will be premiering stateside in the coming weeks.