A Tweleve Year Night
Starring Antonio de la Torre, Chino Darín, Alfonso Tort
There are many films that Americans would never see or even hear about with the Oscar race I call the "Awards Game.” I call it a game because just like the World Series, the World Cup, and the Super Bowl, there are those who are excited to see who is the best of the year and others who could care less. However, unlike pro sports, films don't just entertain, they inform, enlighten, and inspire. A good example of this is "A Twelve Year Night," the official submission from Uruguay for the Academy Awards foreign film race. Uruguay is among 87 other countries who submitted films that will be narrowed down to nine finalists and five nominees. Acclaimed director Álvaro Brechner uses a very inaccessible narrative for the film, which will make it a bit difficult for American audiences to be engaged. However, "A Twelve Year Night" is that rare film where the final moments justify all the hurdles we have to jump through to get there.
A group of leftist rebels, the Tupamaro, have long fought against the corrupt regime in Uruguay. In 1973, three of those men, José “Nato” Mujica (Torre), Mauricio Rosencof (Darín) and Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro (Tort) were apprehended. Originally classified as prisoners they were later held as hostages after the military takes over the government. Branded as traitors by the government, they never saw a judge, faced solitary confinement with no bathroom, little food and were constantly moved around to keep their location secret. They were also not allowed to talk to each other or the guards. The military leadership hoped to drive the men insane through their harsh treatment, but the three men clung to hope and persevered through the most egregious of circumstances. “The end is near,” they kept telling themselves over and over.
Chino Darín is the standout performance.
Brechner’s original screenplay takes each of the three prisoners and shows a bit of their story and background, but only after we have watched years and years of their suffering. The film begins with the men heading into prison. It’s only over the course of the story do we learn who they are and what their story is. It’s a gamble of a tactic because the sympathy the audience should have is something that’s incubated until the end. Difficult to watch yes, but Brechner’s focus on length of captivity is more devastating than any beating or starvation. Perhaps the films biggest detractor is not gaining the viewer's empathy from the start. What we learn in the final moments about Mujica, and what he became later in life is the hook the film fails to use in selling the story. Also, a more narrow focus on just one of the three men might have made the entire project more engaging.
Chino Darín can be seen in another foreign film submission from Argentina, 'El Angel." His performance is the stand out among the three actors, despite Mujica being the more centralized figure. An endurance test for sure, the filmmakers need the audience to feel a sense of freedom and release, and if you make it through this film that does drag in certain periods, that effect will be achieved in the end. "A Twelve Year Night" delivers a potent and powerful ending that should touch anyone who stayed around to catch all this film has to offer.
An endurance test of a film but with a powerful conclusion.