The Night of the Pencils

The power and value of this docudrama—about the kidnapping, imprisonment, and torture of half a dozen high school activists by Argentina's military dictatorship in the mid-70s—are almost exclusively a matter of its effectiveness as agitprop. Made by Hector Olivera (Funny, Dirty Little War) in 1986, the film is marred by an obtrusive music score that needlessly underlines melodramatic moments and an occasional reliance on raw effect over logic (for instance, when the activists who demonstrate in favor of cheaper bus fares and against certain restrictions at school first learn that two of their members have been taken away, they don't even mention the names of these martyrs). Based on the testimony of Pablo Diaz, a student who was eventually released after four years of imprisonment (in contrast to the fate of others still missing), this horror story of torture, rape, and Kafkaesque totalitarian bureaucracy certainly has a brutal impact. One is made to share the pain and confusion of these bound and blindfolded teenagers (and the frustration of their parents, who try to learn their whereabouts), as well as their few moments of respite when they are able to communicate with one another from their separate cells (1989).

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