When you think of the 80s most would think of things like one hit wonders in music, crazy neon clothes and big, big hair, John Hughes films, and Cabbage Patch Kids. As someone who lived through that decade I never would have remembered the Puccios, a family in Argentina that during the Videla regime made its living off of kidnapping wealthy people and holding them for ransom.
On the surface the Puccios seem like a model family. They pray before meals, have a mother (Lili Popovich) who is a domestic goddess and a father who is present in the lives of his kids; he even sits around the table helping them with their math homework. It, however, is a case of everything not being as it seems. If you watch things closely you soon realize that the entire family is frightened of patriarch Arquimedes (Guillermo Francella – The Secret in Their Eyes), who rules with an iron fist. Then there are the rooms that are off limits and so you realize that is where he has stashed those he has kidnapped. It is a house of horrors.
Early in the 1980s Argentina was a country in a state of chaos. Just prior to this period was called the Dirty Wars. They were changing from a military dictatorship to a democracy in 1983 and to say there were growing pains is an understatement. Out of this chaos emerged those who saw opportunity and a cottage industry of kidnapping rich people for ransom sprung up. Arquimedes, a former intelligence officer, used his military connections to make his way in this world.
A big cog in the wheel of his crime machine are Arquimedes’ sons. He is not above getting them to help him in his schemes. After one son then another flees under the guise of going off to play rugby to get away from him and the danger he exposes everyone to, Arquimedes now has rugby star son, Alex (Peter Lanzani), helping him. At a certain point it becomes too much for Alex and he tells his father he is stopping and getting married. It won’t be easy because just like those tied up in the rooms of his house, Alex is also a prisoner. You know eventually he will reach his breaking point.
Don’t be scared away from watching this political drama as you don’t have to know anything about Argentinian history to fully appreciate Trapero’s film. It is more Scorsese than it is Schindler’s List. Rather it is a look at human behaviour and nature. The moral issues abound. Family loyalty, a government in transition turning a blind eye on crime to keep things going forward and betrayal are just some of those touched upon in this eerily riveting film.
At the beginning of the film they tell us that this is based on a true story. That is what makes this even more amazing. What is fascinating about the film is you constantly wonder if the female members of the family really know what is going or are they ignorant? Can they really not hear the cries and moans of the kidnapped people? This air of mystery is carried out successfully by director Pablo Trapero (7 Days in Havana) and aided greatly by his leading man Francella. It is an interesting decision by Trapero to look at this period from the criminal’s perspective rather than the usual point of view being the victims’. Makes your reaction and feelings differ. Francella constructs a complete character in that the man is very charismatic and seems a real family man one moment and then the next he is having hostages killed. He makes the answer to the question uncertain as to whether if this man was your father would you see him for the monster he is?