Between 1976 and 1983, as many as 30,000 Argentines were illegally arrested, tortured and “disappeared” by the country’s military junta. Many of these desaparecidos gave birth during captivity; the babies were often given away to families of military or police officers, and the task of locating these children continues to this day. Based on the story of one such child, Cautiva begins in 1994, when 15-year-old Cristina (Lombardo) is abruptly pulled out of her Catholic-school classroom. A judge delivers the shocking news that blood tests have identified her as the daughter of two desaparecidos—and that she’s now a ward of the state, who will be sent to live with her biological grandmother (Campos). Initially hostile and defensive, Cristina realizes that the people she’s always known as her parents may not be telling the truth, and embarks on her own investigation of the circumstances of her birth.
First-time director Biraben keeps his film on an even keel, his visual restraint disrupted only by an excessively literal dream sequence and a truly nightmarish climactic flashback. The deliberate pacing allows ample opportunity to register the story’s shifting allegiances and subtle emotional shadings. But it’s ultimately Lombardo’s luminous performance that puts a human face on a national tragedy that refuses to die. (Opens Fri; Cinema Village.) — Joshua Land