The Persistence of Memory By Pablo Suarez

in 22nd Mar Del Plata International Film Festival

by Pablo Suárez

Halfway through the Latin American Competition of the 22nd edition of the Mar del Plata International Film Festival, a riveting, mesmerizing, and most brilliant film finally surfaced. M is the title of this gem produced by Argentine Pablo Ratto, and scripted and directed by its star, Nicolás Prividera. M stands for memory, for mother, but, above all, it stands for Marta – Marta Sierra, a worker from the INTA (National Institute of Agricultural Technology), kidnapped and “disappeared” back in 1976 in the early days of Argentina ‘s infamous military dictatorship.

Nicolás Prividera is Marta’s son, who was a kid at the time. Thirty years later, when he was about to turn 36 – the age of his mother when she was kidnapped by the military government – Nicolás filed a criminal lawsuit against none other than Jorge Zorreguieta, former Agriculture Secretary of the 1976 dictatorship and father of the Dutch Princess Máxima Zorreguieta. Nicolás Prividera began shooting M as a way of exploring and conjuring up his mother’s fatidic story, a cinematic attempt to put together the pieces of a crazed puzzle. That is to find out how and why his mother disappeared, where she was taken, whatever had become of her.

Thus Prividera starts his meticulous, rigorous search for the construction of the identity he was deprived of. Not only does he interview Marta’s friends and co-workers, and confront their testimonies, but he also questions – and rightly so – official and unofficial organizations about the role they played in those days, and also as regards Marta’s fate. Most important perhaps is the fact this young writer-director is unafraid to reveal how little attention – if any – is paid today to such hideous and unforgivable events. In a country where years of ominous history are bound to fall into oblivion, Prividera raises unnerving, most relevant queries as to make sure that memory won’t fade away – or, at least, not fade away easily.

As though he were a prosecutor, Prividera questions the information he gathers, puts it together, tries to fill in the empty gaps, and casts a tireless critical gaze upon it. He knows better than to underestimate his audience, so he’s definitively not keen on telling viewers what to think; rather, he just wants them to think for themselves. Think, and perhaps reflect upon his mother’s story, which is, in many ways, the story of many other Argentines who suffered a similar fate. For Prividera knows that there will be no final end to the intimate, personal story of Marta, except for whatever closure he can find within himself.

But M is not a valuable film just because of its content. On the contrary, here content and form go hand in hand to superb effect. Take the camerawork, both unobtrusive and precise, capturing the tiniest gestures, revealing glances, and seemingly unimportant details. Or the accurate editing, a cornerstone in the film’s carefully constructed pace that gradually immerses viewers as it provides the needed eloquent silences and pauses for thoughtful meditation. The use of interspersed Super 8mm family footage gives M an air of nostalgia for the days when things were just fine, adding a layer of restrained feelings to the overall inquisitive tone.

Unwavering in its quest for the reconstruction of memory, Prividera’s debut film calls for urgent, much-needed action upon remembrance. It’s deeply satisfying to see it does so in such a confident, courageous and heartfelt fashion. No mean feat.