The Night of the Pencils (La Noche de Los Lapices)

Institute History

  • 1988 Sundance Film Festival


Ironically, the subject which was most taboo throughout the years of dictatorship—the fate of the “disappeared”—remains the least investigated by Argentine cinemas since that time. The Night of the Pencils takes its title from the code name of the police action which resulted in the kidnapping, torture, and eventual death (with one exception) of high school students. The one survivor, Pablo Diaz, served as adviser to Olivera on this film.

Beginning with the social unrest to the Isabel Peron period, the film follows its youthful protagonists through the military coup of March 24, 1976, and its tense aftermath. As they act like any bunch of high-spirited and politically aware students, they attract the dangerous attention of the security forces just beginning to clamp down on life in their native La Plata. What happened to these innocent products of good Argentine families may be unimaginable, but to Oliver’s credit he has managed to “imagine” it with extraordinary precision. Avoiding the deadening portrayal of physical torture that might be expected, Olivera chooses instead to dramatize the fears and courage of the youths, the psychological realities of their clandestine imprisonment, and the unavoidable fate which met them and so many thousands of other young men and women in those years. As a result, Night of the Pencils is inspiring rather than merely depressing. Good movie making manages to result from good intentions. Based on the book by Maria Seoane and Hector Ruis Nunez

— Tony Safford

Screening Details

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