‘The Trial’ Review: Seeking Justice for Argentina

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Crafted entirely out of the televised 1985 trial of Argentina’s military junta, “The Trial” lays bare horrific crimes while showing the courage of victims, survivors and their families. Ulises de la Orden’s conscientious documentary is a necessary act of memory — for such is the only way justice truly endures — and it reminds viewers of the Dante-esque extent of the abuses beyond the stories of “the disappeared,” the thousands who were snatched and killed because they were labeled left-wing opponents or on other pretexts.

De la Orden’s respectful, smartly abridged account draws on the 530 hours recorded by public television to compile a kind of oral history, rather than tracking the legal arguments. The testimony by dignified witnesses from all walks of life is gripping, even when viewed obliquely because of the camera placement. Cutaway shots show the smug-looking military brass who are on trial, the judges watching as impassively as they can manage and a rapt crowd in the courtroom.

The director rightly recognizes that nothing is to be gained by smoothing over the facts. The military junta that seized power (from President Isabel Perón) in 1976, and its cronies and followers raped, murdered, tortured and kidnapped. They trafficked orphans of “subversives,” and stole (real estate and cash, while also raiding homes for everything from cookbooks to women’s underwear). We hear all about their mafialike behavior — throwing their victims out of airplanes into the sea — and how they made a grisly mockery of the rule of law.

The 177-minute film concludes with the dramatic sentencing of the regime’s de facto president, Jorge Rafael Videla, and others. The document might resemble an artifact from another era. But it offers a stirring universal example of justice served, at a time when so many American voters fear the prospect of an authoritarian president already impeached once for inciting an insurrection.

The Trial
Not rated. In Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 57 minutes. In theaters.

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