The drama A Twelve-Year Night is about the civil-military dictatorship of Uruguay (1973-1985). This film shows how the left-wing urban guerrilla group, the Tupamaros, were violently defeated in the coup d’état of 1973 and nine of its members were held by the dictatorship as “hostages.” Three of the nine “hostages” are dramatized: Mauricio Rosencof, Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro and José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano.
A Twelve-Year Night, inspired by the true events and based on the book “Memorias del Calabozo” by Mauricio Rosencof and Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, who, along with José “Pepe” Múgica, were imprisoned in solitary confinement. They were on the constant move and spent 12 years in forty jails during the military dictatorship that ruled Uruguay starting from 1973.
The narrative at its outset seems like a prison drama about the terror of living in solitary confinement over the course of years, and it does stay true to the template, but Alvaro Brechner is more interested in the minute aesthetics of an individual undergoing cognitive and physical collapse, and that separates the film from the genre cliche.
The film captures the horror of atrocity and psychological trauma inflicted on the three Uruguayan political radicals. One of the Military officers passes a brutal remark. “We should have killed them at the time. Now we’re going to drive them insane,” and the film stands true to the word for portraying it.
They were rob of their basic human rights, refuse to the minimum amenities like the books, newspaper, toiletries and fresh food, and left to rot in their cells. They were not allow to speak to anyone or go out in the open space thus traumatising them within the confinement of the walls and lack of human connection.
A Twelve-Year Night in its first act succumbs to prison drama genre tropes as the building of the characters and creating the necessary ecosystem feels pedestrian.
But the film gains momentum in the second act. Jailed in solitary confinement with no hope, nothing tangible to hang on to, walls of despair closing in as the time loses its existence. The consciousness that makes us human steadily starts decaying. Unexpress emotions start eroding inside. The lack of any tangible stimuli leads to a disorienting feeling that has been painfully capture in hallucinatory scenes. The feeling of humongous emptiness is the only emotion left to feel.
The only thing that can not be strip off from a naked person is his imagination. Alvaro Brechner explores this human aesthetic. And all the three actors deliver the nuance performances require to make it believable. In one of the most beautifully shot and perform scenes. Mauricio Rosencof is offer a book and pen in exchange for writing a love letter on behalf of soldiers. He smells the pages of the book from one end to another. The fluttering sound of turning the pages felt mellifluous. He takes a long pause while looking at the pen. And he smiles. He does take advantage of his writing skills but it doesn’t last long.
The only thing that felt topsy-turvy is the scene showing the mental disorientation and psychological breakdown, initiate. That by the electric shock and penetration of an object in the head. It involves the fast-cutting editing but that is poorly done. It is over thought but under-written and doesn’t add up to convey the desire feeling.
The cinematographer Carlos Catalán drew the inspiration from Dave McKean’s illustrations in the graphic novel Arkham Asylum.
The well thought cinematography to illustrate the feeling of struggle in the isolation. And descend into spatial, mental and temporal disorientation combine with editing and melancholic score. That creates a feeling of suffocation, cruelty and abuse that the viewer personally experiences both physically and mentally.
“A Twelve-Year Night” is probably one of the finest survival films. Where we’re introduce with much resolve and highly determine true-life characters who certainly has their purpose in life. While the film’s premise is based on then Uruguayan politics. The focus was only on the individuals – hence it can be watch on that respect and not the overall political movement.
The narrative of the film shows glimpses of brutality and violation of human rights by the military junta. The movie does not really show much of the violent methods in the prison cells. Rather it is the mental torture these men went through that forces us to think and connect with the characters. Some visuals, including the appearance of the characters and the condition of the prison cells allow us to connect to their sufferings.
Nevertheless, “A Twelve-Year Night” (La noche de 12 años) with its incredible performance by its key cast, tempts us. That to think of the freedom we enjoy these days, no matter which country or place we live in. While the film is a hard truth of the troublesome time, it also shows some positive forces in terms. That of the compassionate doctor who helps Mujica and even the love and support of the love ones.
Directed By: Álvaro Brechner
Stars: Antonio de la Torre, Chino Darín, Alfonso Tort
Written By: Álvaro Brechner
Runtime: 122 minutes
Studio: Haddock Films
CRITIC REVIEWS FOR A TWELVE-YEAR NIGHT (LA NOCHE DE 12 AÑOS)
An impressive work that further confirms writer-director Alvaro Brechner as one of the leading South American screen talents to emerge in the last decade.
Sometimes a human simply withstands what it’s subjected to, and that’s enough to rivet us.
A second-tier “Papillon”… It just doesn’t add anything.
An endurance test of a film but with a powerful conclusion.