The Americas 61.2 (2004) 348-350
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Based on events in filmmaker Eva Urrutia's childhood, Through Your Eyes employs complex narrative technique to represent problems of history and memory [End Page 348] in the context of late twentieth-century Latin American political repression. In its densely packed nine minutes, Through Your Eyes tells a story of hope—even as it is refracted through the personal despair occasioned by state-sanctioned brutality—which will resonate with scholars, teachers, and students of Latin American history and culture. While the film is based upon the disappearance of Urrutia's parents by the Argentinian military dictatorship in the 1970s, it is amorphously set "somewhere in Latin America." This dramatic dis-placement, used by Latin American artists such as Ariel Dorfman (most notably in Death and the Maiden), is effective in conveying the impossible fact that such brutality was both everywhere and, according to "the official story" (the title of another film about Argentinian desaparecidos with which Urrutia's short resonates), precisely nowhere.
The story of pseudonymous "Maria" is told in fragments that, in their temporal discontinuity, mimic the structure of memory itself, especially of the traumatic sort. There are three distinct "Marias" in the film: the child Maria, the adult Maria, and a puppet Maria. The latter symbolizes the manipulation and alienation that are the hallmarks of governmental repression: citizens, humans, made into costumed husks by a government that demands their performance of "loyalty" and, alternatively, silence. It is also, significantly, only the puppet, the twice-removed figure for the film's protagonist, who speaks both the truth of her mother's disappearance and death as well as her own desire to die as a result.
The substance of the film cuts between shots of the child Maria enacting fragments of Urrutia's memory of the time before her mother's disappearance and the adult Maria, played by Urrutia herself, who digs a box filled with mementos from a hole in the earth in a rich symbolic equation of memory as grave. Positioning the audience as witness, the film offers glimpses of the remains of this story and of the lives it represents—a newspaper clipping, a letter addressed "A mis hijos"—yet refuses to construct a coherent narrative from these fragments. Instead, the gaps in narrative time stage the condition of trauma and memory by which the original event is ungraspable, signified only by repetitious, symptomatic intrusion into the survivor's present life. As if to emphasize the centrality of trauma to this story, the single progressive narrative thread in the film is the staining of the adult Maria with dirt, culminating in a performance of her own despair—which is also an act of identification and solidarity with her mother—as she lies down in the grave she has dug.
Yet viewers are invited in equally compelling terms to consider the potential of hope. Cut into the interstices of shots of this violent past are images of Maria's abuela donning her white kerchief to march, presumably in the Plaza de Mayo, and of the adult Maria placing her own head scarf into a bag and exiting her apartment, entering the public sphere of voice and action, and abandoning, for the moment at least, the suffocating oblivion of traumatic memory. The richness of the film's symbolic language and its theoretical sophistication in addressing the problems of memory and trauma in the context of Latin American [End Page 349] history are powerful yields for such a short piece. Its affect in the classroom is equally powerful.
Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg