“Usually we’re looking to identify the dead, but here we’re looking for the living,” says a forensic anthropologist early in Finding Oscar, a documentary seeking to do just that.
Looking back to Guatemala’s 1982 Dos Erres massacre, director Ryan Suffern focuses not on the nearly 250 villagers who were murdered by commandos working for the government, but on a child who is said to have survived and been raised by one of the soldiers who carried out the atrocity. This was one of many bloody events in Guatemala’s decades-long civil war (started, of course, with an assist from the United States), the effects of which are still being felt today.
Throughout Guatemala, murals depicting similar incidents serve as graphic reminders of the untold dead, bringing to mind a line from playwright Griselda Gambaro’s 1985 Antigone update Antigona Furiosa, written about the Argentine Dirty War that likewise saw thousands of citizens disappeared: The living are the great sepulchre of the dead.
A mix of archival footage and interviews with surviving family members of the victims guide the way toward Oscar, not that the search is easy; still, you don’t call your movie Finding Oscar if you never actually do so. Suffern strikes a respectful, not entirely hopeless tone throughout, allowing those affected by the civil war in general and the Dos Erres massacre in particular to speak at length about their experiences. Their words are often more powerful than the filmmaking, but Suffern wisely allows them to do most of the talking.
Directed by Ryan Suffern
Opens April 11, Angelika Film Center
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 13, 2017