Juan’s in love with Maria. She knows him only as Ernesto, a name he must not forget.
Writer/director Benjamin Ávila‘s Clandestine Childhood is a provocative first feature film by Ávila that is based on events from his life. 12-year-old Juan (Teo Gutiérrez Moreno) will have to live as Ernesto, an assumed name, as a 5th grader in 1979 Argentina. It is three years after a military coup, with him living in exile from Cuba with his mother Cristina (alias Charo) (Natalia Oreiro), his father Horacio (alias Daniel) (Cesar Troncoso), and baby sister Victoria. The film avoids the intimate details of Charo and Daniel’s involvements with anti-government activities, rather than it being a politically violent thriller. The story proceeds as a coming of age story, and a tale of first love told seamlessly from Juan’s (alias Ernesto) point of view.
When Juan and his parents return to Buenos Aries, they live with Horacio’s brother Beto (Ernesto Alterio). While there, the family continues with their political movement amidst Beto’s chocolate-peanut business, an obvious front for their guerrilla-revolutionary activities. Juan is enrolled in school as ‘Ernesto,’ and soon falls for a classmate’s sister Maria (Violeta Palukas). Although they all live in constant danger of being discovered, life seems to return to normal for Juan and his family. But soon, the fragility of their situation begins to wane into paranoia, as Juan starts to learn first hand of the deaths of close his family members and his parents fallen comrades.
Clandestine Childhood is a depressing tale of a childhood outweighed by the intense pressures of Charo and Daniel’s political ideologies. At times, the scenes seem drawn out between the moments when Juan’s parents are consumed with fighting Argentina’s right-wing dictatorship while appearing emotionally neglectful of Juan’s budding maturity. The film does well to stick to Juan’s point of view, thereby allowing the viewer to empathize with both Juan and his little sister being brought up among intense situations. The scenes in the film featuring intimate family moments were endearing, and it was unfortunate that these moments were so few and far between. The film is beautifully edited, and there are moments where a couple of the violent scenes in the movie were flash-animated by Andy Riva in tones of black, red, grays, and orange. Ávila‘s heartfelt cine-memoir is truly a charming and engaging feature that is not outweighed by its autobiographical roots.