Olvidados

Olvidados film poster

Olvidados poster

Arriving on our screens after having enjoyed quite a glorious run in South America, this big budget Bolivian/Mexican production sheds light on a dark era known as Operation Condor where Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay joined force to eradicate communism, imprisoning, torturing and executing militants, thinkers and innocents alike.

Alternating between present time and flashbacks, Olvidados (Forgotten) uses a Bolivian general as a thread to revisit a haunting past. We first get to meet him as an old, dignified man before a heart attack takes us in two narrative directions: The first one focuses on the crimes he perpetrated as a Condor officer in the late 70’s while the second one follows his – now adult – son as he’s arriving from the US to visit him in the hospital.

The general (Damian Alcazar) is portrayed as a cold-blooded man who will stop at nothing to perform his duty and the movie is more particularly focusing on the fate of a group of young Bolivians who get arrested and tortured ad-nauseum. Allowing us to breathe for short breaks among all the cruelty, the movie also makes us spend some time with his son as he gets interrogated by a custom officer right after landing in Bolivia.

Directed by Carlos Bolado who offered us an interesting, cynical look at Mexico’s corruption in Colosio, Olvidados is an ambitious work but despite decent production values and a renowned cast, it becomes quickly clear that the filmmaker and screenwriters don’t really know what to do with their subject. The first thing I noticed is that just like in Colosio, Mr. Bolado’s work has a soapy feel, delivering melodrama with kitsch. Unlike Colosio where it was used as an ironic post-modern tool, it here weakens the power of the story, in some cases even creating unintentional laughs – I’m referring to the sequence where a dancer gets abducted on stage.

Making us experience the cruelty of Operation Condor obviously involved showing us executions and torture but the filmmaker spends so much time on these harsh moments that, after a while, they become redundant, loosing their impact and almost bordering on voyeurism. I also was confused about the interrogation scenes involving the custom officer and the general’s son: is the officer punishing the son for his father’s sins or simply because he sold out to Uncle Sam’s capitalism? It’s never really clear and, to be frank, these sequences almost look like fillers.

The most disappointing moment however probably comes at the end, when the credits start rolling:  As the filmmakers let us know what the premise of their work was, we suddenly realize that telling such a story would have required a wholly different script.

To those who would be infuriated by the fact that I am panning a movie dealing with such an important subject, I wanted to point out that plenty of works have tackled similar themes with more subtlety and effectiveness, from Costa-Gravas’ Missing to Luise Puenzo’s The Official Story and Jean-Pierre Melville’s The Army of Shadows. Unfortunately, Olvidados is yet another example how a badly executed work will always undermine its message, even if it has the best intentions.

Director: Carlos Bolado – Actors: Damián Alcázar, Rafael Ferro – Running Time: 1:52 – Year: 2015 – Country: Bolivia
Click here to watch the Olvidados trailer
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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.