A Twelve-Year Night / La noche de 12 años (dir. Álvaro Brechner, 2018) – Under the military dictatorship of Uruguay back in 1973, nine Tupamaro prisoners were kept in solitary confinement for twelve years.
A Twelve-Year Night puts to screen an appalling chapter of Uruguayan history, revelatory of the worst – and the best – of human nature.
It was 1973. Military dictatorship reigned over Uruguay, where political prisoners are taken and incarcerated without trial. Nine men spent over 4,300 days in solitary confinement, an unimaginable nightmare enough to drive anyone mad.
Isolation almost eclipses the pain of physical torture, as A Twelve Year Night powerfully puts the stories of three prisoners on display. The archaic punishment sees them cut off from the world and their family, all for the crime of holding on to their own political beliefs.
It is sheer will that kept the three political prisoners alive and well (for the most part). They marched on, leaving their names behind as important leaders in Uruguayan history. Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro was the Minister of Defense until his death in 2016. Mauricio Rosencof made his literary mark as an author and the Director of Culture of Montevideo.
Perhaps most notable of all is Jose Pepe Mujica, who took the highest office as Uruguay’s 40th president from 2010 to 2015, leading the country with his steadfast ideals. But before then, the three had to suffer and survive the military’s crimes, as part of the Tupamaros at the point of their collapse.
Their deeds as part of the left-wing urban guerilla group go largely unseen, save for intermittent and sometimes confusing flashbacks of their arrests. Historical context is hence minimal, with the nuts and bolts of Uruguayan politics left mostly to title cards.
Leaving what they have done as an aside is a disservice to the nine behind bars, but is far from the film’s undoing. More interested in the how than why, A Twelve-Year Night instead takes on the universal motif of human endurance and danger of excessive power. There is much resonance in that. The human rights violation on display is enough to shock by its mere audacity and recency.
In their respective roles, Alfonso Tort, Chino Darin, and Antonio de la Torre put up achingly authentic performances. Their desperation to be heard is only less heartbreaking in their exaltation, as they relish in the privileges we take for granted, as though it could be their last.
There are uncomfortable contrasts. Every glimpse of the sun and an act of a guard’s kindness is interspersed with uneasy scenes of waterboarding, electric shocks, and beatings. Eluding the watchful eyes of human rights groups, the military even gave them temporary comfort, only to strip them away when left alone.
It is an unmerited governance of hope, a callous act of cruelty so endlessly maddening and undeserving. Each wrench away from their young children and shove towards solitude truly hit us in the gut, powerless in changing the harrowing past that these men had lived.
But those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. It is then vital for us to learn of the men who did something when others did none even at a terrible cost. We would also do well to always remember the best of Man – the inspiring courage of those who hold on to their humanity, even when others try to take it away.