A new film portraying the horrors of the 1982 Falklands War between Britain and Argentina.

The Argentine ship, Belgrano, sinking after it was attacked by the Royal Navy. A survivor took the photo whilst he was in a lifeboat.

7 September 2005
Argentine film aims to heal wounds of Falklands War
By Mary Milliken

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (Reuters) - Bloody, ragged and retreating, the Argentine conscripts come upon a soccer ball that briefly lifts their spirits as Argentina surrenders to British forces in the 1982 Falklands War.

The scene from a new Argentine film is a wrenching reminder of the innocence of 18-year-olds forced to fight a war on freezing islands for foolhardy dictators.

"Enlightened by Fire", which opens this week, is the first major Argentine film to portray the horrors of the 10-week war in the South Atlantic islands that Argentines call the Malvinas and still claim as theirs.

Argentina insists it inherited the remote archipelago of some 2,200 people of mostly British descent from Spain before they were occupied by Britain in 1833.

Playing on centuries-old nationalist fervor, Argentina's military dictatorship at the time, led by the infamous Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, declared war against Britain to reclaim the Falklands in a failed attempt to mask growing criticism of the military regime and the woes of a crumbling economy.

HMS Antelope being bombed and sunk.

Argentine director Tristan Bauer hopes the film will help Argentines come to grips with a humiliating defeat that also helped topple the dictatorship. Passions still run deep in Argentina over claims to the Falklands, but for most the botched war represents just another brutality committed by a government during whose rule some 30,000 people "disappeared".

"The day after defeat, the Argentine forces had orders to 'de-Malvinize,'" said Bauer. "The soldiers who came back had to sign a document that was like a pact of silence. The Malvinas would not be discussed."

One of those soldiers who signed the document was Edgardo Esteban, author of the book that inspired the movie. He was 19 and about to finish his conscription when Argentina invaded the islands.

Esteban and 9,000 conscripts, or three-quarters of the Argentine forces, had little food and froze in their thin parkas. When caught stealing rations or killing sheep, they were "staked" by their superiors -- spread-eagled and tied to stakes in the ground and left to freeze in the cold rain.

The teenagers also witnessed terrible deaths in the nighttime battles, when the British would pin them to the hillside with incessant bombing and shelling from sea.

Argentine soldiers being taken prisoner by the British after being defeated in the Battle of Goose Green.
"When you are 18, you don't think about death. But ever since this war, death has been with us constantly," said Esteban, now a TV journalist. "Two things help me close this chapter -- the book and now the movie."


The film, which took five years to make and was shot in the Falklands and Argentina, meshes Esteban's experiences and those of other veterans.

It also incorporates news reel images, like those showing thousands of Argentines at the outset of the battles, cheering on Galtieri after he declared war.

The film opens with a veteran's suicide in Buenos Aires several years after the war, leaving the main character, Esteban Leguizamon, the sole survivor of his foxhole group of three. One had died in a battle vividly depicted in the film.

The suicide takes Esteban back to the war in flashbacks and to the present-day Falklands, where he finds his foxhole and belongings he had stashed in the walls.

Some 350 veterans have committed suicide since the war, more than those who died in land battles on the Falklands. Another 370 died when the General Belgrano battleship sank.

Argentine movie critic Julia Montesoro said the film should spark a debate about the debt Argentina owes its veterans, most of whom never received decent pensions nor assistance for post-combat disorders.

"It is a good movie. It is tough to see, but I think that is necessary," said Montesoro, who reviews films for leading daily La Nacion and Radio Continental.