Cine Las Americas 2011
By Caitlyn Collins | May 6, 2011
Director: Diego Lerman
Writers: Diego Lerman, Maria Meira
Starring: Julieta Zylberberg, Osmar Nuñez, Marta Lubos, Gaby Ferrero, Diego Veggezzi, Pablo Sigal
Much of 20th century Latin American history is marred by viscous dictators who actively sought to repress any and all opposed to their regimes. The history of Argentina is no exception to this. The period between 1976 and 1983 is known as the Dirty War in Argentina when thousands of students, unionists, activists, journalists and anyone who sympathized with left-wing politics were “disappeared” by the military dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and his ruthless entourage. This period of intense repression is artistically manifested in much of the art of Argentina from the latter part of the 20th century on. Diego Lerman’s allegorical film, La mirada invisible (The Invisible Eye), is set in a Buenos Aires high school in 1982. The world of the school starkly contrasts the world beyond its courtyard walls as the capital city begins to challenge the dictatorship.
María Teresa (Julieta Zylberberg) is a no-nonsense young twenty-something who works as a teacher’s assistant at a Buenos Aires high school. As a teacher’s assistant she is mostly responsible for keeping her students in check at all times. Each time the students pass in and out of a classroom everything from their uniforms to their haircuts is inspected. María Teresa, despite the marginal age difference between herself and her students, María Teresa takes her role as teacher’s assistant with the utmost seriousness. She hardly smiles and is even stern when she returns home in the evenings, a home she shares with her seamstress grandmother and flighty mother. María Teresa’s inspiration for performing her job dutifully is her boss, the lecherous Mr. Biasutto (Osmar Nuñez). Mr. Biasutto considers himself to be the head of surveillance as well as the master of the teacher’s assistants. He treats his assistants, all of whom are significantly younger, as if they themselves were the students.
Mr. Biasutto takes a liking to the young, naïve María Teresa just as she begins an obsession with one of the more rebellious students (and as the political atmosphere begins to intensify). She believes she smells a hint of cigarette smoke coming from the boys’ lavatory and proposes an idea to Mr. Biasutto that arouses him in more ways than one. She believes she can catch the smokers and asks permission to go forth with her plans. Her surveillance work involves her first scoping out the boys’ bathroom but eventually involves her hiding in one of the stalls during her free period. Why anyone would choose to hide in a shithouse, literally, in order to catch the infraction of smoking in school is beyond me. But it’s this stall that provides María Teresa with the chance to let loose a bit. It begins innocently enough, with the removal of her underwear in order to pee in the hole in the floor. One chance glimpse of her student crush, however, moves her beyond past the point of any innocence to sexual voyeurism as she begins to masturbate.
María Teresa’s relationship with Mr. Biasutto quickly escalates in a similar manner. They start out innocently enough, with an after work meeting in a café. This is obviously a date for Mr. Biasutto but María Teresa seems unaware of this fact. He asks her repeatedly to call him by his first name. He begins to pay special attention to her at school and even calls her at home.
The violent intensity of the film picks up as the noise from the protestors outside the protective school walls surges. The school is forced to evacuate the students as the ensuing street chaos threatens their safety. Mr. Biasutto finds María Teresa just as the last students and members of staff are vacating the premises. He asks her to follow him to her favorite stall in the boys’ bathroom and there confronts her as a spy of the students rather than a professional trying to enforce the rules. She sobs at having been caught breaking the rules as he takes to aggressively raping her.
Lerman’s story and direction are unnerving from the commencement of the film. The characters are difficult to connect with, yet I began to feel sorry for María Teresa in spite of her creepy antics. She’s socially awkward and incredibly repressed yet part of me wanted to sympathize with her. I wanted to take her by the hand and show her about life. One scene has her dressing for and arriving at a party of her peers and she’s visibly uncomfortable. Her naïveté somehow still comes through while she’s being raped. I struggle with rape scenes, but who doesn’t. This one was incredibly brutal to my sensibilities. María Teresa doesn’t scream as loud as physically possible, although I don’t even know if anyone would have heard her since the school had been evacuated. I still wanted her to put up more of a fight. Hell, I wanted to jump through the screen and fight for her. After leaving the stall, Mr. Biasutto washes his hands and tidies his shirt while she slumps, bloody and sobbing, to floor of it. He asks her to get up and clean herself off, and it’s in this moment where she finally fights back just as the people of Buenos Aires are fighting for their lives.
The political footage Lerman ends the film with reinforces his message. This is what happened to the Argentinian people until they finally had enough and fought back. The reality of thousands of Argentinians disappearing only happened a few generations ago and is absolutely horrifying as are all of the violations associated with dictators be they heads of state or heads of school security.