Los Condenados, 2009

The delineation between reality and mythology, ideal and application also provides the catalyst for Isaki Lacuesta’s first fiction film, Los Condenados (The Condemned). The rupture is prefigured in the opening image of a gaunt, Argentinean expatriate, Martín (Daniel Fanego) undergoing a CT scan at a Spanish hospital, the implication of cancer suggesting a hidden, indefinable turmoil that continues to haunt the consciousness. For Martín, the sickness resurfaces in a message from longtime friend and former guerilla fighter, Raúl (Arturo Goetz), inviting him to an excavation of mass graves under the ruse of a university-sponsored archaeological dig in the remote countryside to search for the desaparecidos, in particular, a comrade named Ezequiel who went missing after being kidnapped by the state some thirty years earlier during the “dirty war”. With Ezequiel’s widow, Andrea (Leonor Manso) and mother, Luisa (Juana Hidalgo) in tow, Raúl has also enlisted the aid of Vicky (María Fiorentino), a dissident who, like Martín, had been held captive in a network of undisclosed jungle prisons. Idolized by the younger generation, especially Vicky’s son Pablo (Nazareno Casero), Martín’s complacency and distraction proves a stark contrast to his reputation as elusive rebel leader and ideological godfather – a friction that forces them to re-evaluate their own imperfect memories over their mutual, buried past. In its elliptical, organic structure and images of the jungle as a metaphor for interiority, Los Condenados suggests kinship with Lisandro Alonso’s Los Muertos and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Moreover, inasmuch as Vargas’s homecoming reframes the intrigue of his past into the banal in Los Muertos, Martín’s journey also represents a demythification. Curiously, it is this dismantling of the heroic myth that also resolves the mystery of the disappearances, confronting the romanticism of failed revolution and, in the process, reconciling the hidden spaces between history and memory.

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