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A handful of adults searching for lost identity

A scene from the documentary Nacidos vivos.
By Pablo Suárez
For the Herald

Nacidos Vivos is a powerful documentary with some downsides in form

As appalling as it may sound, there are too many people in Argentina who don’t know their true identity. They were illegally “adopted” in many different ways: they were sold, stolen, or exchanged at birth, with forced or no consent at all, from their biological parents (more often than not, from the mother). Accordingly, their adoptive parents never told them they were adoptees during their childhood and teenage years. For that matter, some never found out in their entire lives. As expected, those who learned about it by unexpected and painful means endured quite a traumatic experience. In time, most of them decided to look for their biological parents, but not many found them. So far, their identities remain unknown. None-theless, they have the courage and energy to keep on searching.

The Argentine documentary Nacidos vivos, by Alejandra Perdomo, concerns the stories of more than a handful of adults whose identities were changed at birth. Their testimonies speak of the darkest zones of a society that turns a blind eye to a problem way more widespread than it may seem. Of course, this is not an Argentine problem, and so the documentary deals with some cases that take place in Spain, where Argentine associations utilize social networks for finding much sought after mothers and fathers.

In Buenos Aires there’s the Office of Human Rights of the Civil Registry, which silently yet firmly conducts as many investigations as possible in order to help adoptees know who they are. Little by little and with tremendous effort, more and more people are learning about their origins thanks to the efficient work carried out by tireless social workers.

Among the documentary’s most valuable testimonies are those of psychoanalyst and educator Dr. Eva Giberti, who has a most exhaustive background in matters of adoption; Mercedes Yáñez, founder of the Buenos Aires Office of Human Rights, and an adoptee whose identity was changed at birth; and vocalist Viviana Scaliza, who also was separated from her biological family. Many other different, unfamiliar faces with similar stories draw a picture with too large a scope to pretend it’s not a major problem.

Nacidos vivos is indeed a powerful document: it exposes the roots of the problem, shows its many ramifications, and addresses essential questions regarding the many facets of the secreted experiences of substitution of identity. It provides viewers with information hard to get elsewhere, which speaks of a web of lies and deceit in ways you wouldn’t believe. This is how it raises awareness in a sturdy, determined, yet non belligerent manner. For it’s not a piece of facile agit-prop, but a thoughtful and much-needed indictment of a hideous crime. Most importantly, it shows the faces and voices of those deeply hurt by their illegal “adoptions,” and so it becomes a testimony of human endurance and will power to overcome adversity. It’s not about statistics, it’s about persons. What makes it so valuable is its humanistic edge.

However, there’s a downside, and it has to do with its film form, not with its content. Even for a conventionally shot and edited documentary, Nacidos vivos loses momentum from time to time and has a hard time articulating a narrative as gripping as the theme calls for. This is when you feel it could have been less formulaic. Perhaps it could have used more editing too for some interviewees need more screen time (and so their stories would have been more exhaustive) whereas others become involuntarily redundant at times. In the end, you may get the feeling that there’s an overall need for a stronger dramatic progression that’s not always fulfilled.

Like many socially-conscious local documentaries released in these last years, Nacidos vivos is an indispensable document of its times that can use as much exposure as possible to make a difference in a ominous reality.

Production notes

Nacidos vivos (Argentina). Directed and written by Alejandra Perdomo. Cinematography by Lucas Martelli. Editing by Gabriela Jaime. Musical score: Manuel García. Sound design: Horacio Almada. Produced by Alejandra Perdomo. Runtime: 78 minutes.

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