January 15, 2019 – This is a harrowing, based on fact, tale of murder, imprisonment, survival and triumph to overcome terrible prison conditions. This Spanish language movie is based on events in the history of Uruguay. The title refers to the fact that the main characters of this story, prisoners, were taken from prison one night and kept as military hostages for 12 years.
The story is centered on José Mujica (played by Antonio de la Torre) who is kidnapped from prison along with his fellow Tupamaros, Eleuterio “Nato” Fernández Huidobro (Alfonso Tort) and Mauricio “Ruso” Rosencof (Chino Darín) and taken away by the Uruguayan military. They were held hostage, in solitary confinement for 12 years.
The Tupamaros are urban guerillas who fight against the Uruguayan government. In flashback scenes, government forces are shown murdering Tupamaros in a crackdown. Several who were wounded, survived, only to spend years being tortured and held in solitary confinement. The prisoners are beaten and subjected to psychological abuse. One of them is subjected to involuntary electroshock treatments.
The movie does a good job of showing the effects of solitary confinement on the mental health of the prisoners. Deprived of all human contact, they develop a variety of strategies to cope, such as by listening to the conversations among the guards, or by using their imaginations to create alternate realities. They develop a code for communicating with each other by tapping on the walls of their cells. Two prisoners are able to play chess by tapping signals through the prison walls.
The prisoners are moved periodically so their families can't easily find them. Sometimes, the prisoners make friends with the guards. Ruso, a poet, makes friends with a guard by writing romantic letters for him to win the heart of the guard's girlfriend. Later, the guard, remembering Ruso's help, grants him and the other prisoners a special favor in appreciation. He lets the prisoners go outdoors in a courtyard where they can see, and feel, the sun. Sometimes years pass before they catch sight of the sky or the countryside.
José Mujica is losing his mind, but is encouraged to endure his ordeal by his mother and a friendly doctor, Psiquiatra (Soledad Villamil). The movie also shows that although these men disappeared from public view for years, they were not forgotten. Near the end of the film, it is revealed what became of these three prisoners, and those are some astonishing revelations. This is a well-acted film and the director, Álvaro Brechner (“Bad Day to Go Fishing”) does a fine job of showing us how it feels to be imprisoned. This film rates a B.
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