Olvidados (Forgotten) has a twist ending that’s easy to figure out, dialogue that veers into didacticism, and sets whose sterile perfection renders some scenes stage-bound rather than lifelike. Yet the film — directed by Carlos Bolado from a script by Elia Petridis, Carlos Ortiz, and Mauricio D’Avis — captures the visceral terror of torture so powerfully that it jars the viewer.
A fictional tale based on the real-life horrors of Operation Condor, the CIA-backed plan that spawned and supported brutal dictatorships across Latin America throughout the 1970s and saw hundreds of thousands of people imprisoned, tortured, and forever disappeared, Olvidados doesn’t just shine a light on history — it draws a line to the grim political realities of terrorism and government complicity that persist today.
The film centers on retired Bolivian general Jose Mendieta (Mexican actor Damián Alcázar), whose rekindled memories of his reign of terror force him to write a letter of confession to his son. Those memories are shown in flashbacks that also tell the backstory of a group of young friends — a journalist and his wife, a college student, a dancer who is the daughter of a deposed politician — who get caught up in a dragnet that finds them imprisoned and tortured, often to death.
While the film ably captures the sense of foreboding that hangs in the air during times of intense oppression and repression — the way paranoia eats at friendships, the way nerves fray — it’s the scenes of torture that resonate most powerfully, and not just for their gruesomeness. In showing how some men derive primal, perverse senses of pleasure and power from their brutality, how small men make themselves feel large and invincible, the film distills the roots of terror (political, cultural, religious) to truths that are tragically evergreen.
Directed by Carlos Bolado
Opens September 18, Village East Cinema
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 17, 2015