'Olvidados' tells part of the story of Operation Condor

 21 Nov 2015 - 18:37

'Olvidados' tells part of the story of Operation Condor


By Mark Jenkins

Beginning in the mid-1970s, the governments of six South American countries ran a program called Operation Condor, brutally repressing dissent.

From the frenetic opening montage of "Olvidados," it would appear that the drama - Bolivia's official submission for Foreign Language Film at the most recent Academy Awards - intends to tell the whole bloody story. But the movie eventually focuses on three characters: Bolivian Gen. José Mendieta (Damián Alcázar); Argentine journalist Marco (Carloto Cotta); and Marco's pregnant wife Lucía (Carla Ortiz, one of the producers and writers). They all get to know each other in a Chilean prison.

The movie's title, which means "Forgotten," is partly a reference to the ruthless campaign's tens of thousands of casualties, many of whose fates remain unknown. It also reflects the movie's structure and plot, which involves secrets and lies - the central ones easily guessed - and an elaborate system of flashbacks. These interrupt the contemporary story of the now-remorseful general and the deathbed confession he has written for his son (Bernardo Peña).

The film can be heavy-handed and ill-informed at times, notably in its references to the United States. The American who teaches Counterinsurgency 101 to José bears the surname "Washington" on his uniform. And Marco tells his cohorts that Chilean exile Orlando Letelier - assassinated in Washington in 1976 - was killed "in plain sight of Washington's World Trade Center."

Despite numerous missteps and contrivances, "Olvidados" succeeds as an indictment of Operation Condor's horrors. Unflinchingly, director Carlos Bolado stages beatings, near-drownings and electrical torments.

The movie's viewers may not care about the dying José, but they will likely be moved by the suffering of his victims.

Two stars. (112 minutes)

Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.

The Washington Post