War movies, while typically exciting, are a very depressing bunch. Even those of the genre that showcase victories or inhabit a nationalistic honor have enough casualties and horrors to affect the emotions of their audience. However, there is a kind of movie more tragic than the war movie, and that is the lost-war movie. American cinema has been dealing for decades with our defeat in Vietnam with a large number of movies that show the ill-fated battles and/or the devastating aftereffects of the war. Recently we have been given war films from other perspectives, as well. The 2004 German film Downfall presents an amazing account of Hitler's last days, while The Blood of My Brother, a documentary that screened at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, shows the consequences of our latest war with Iraq from the Iraqi point of view. And Argentina's loss of the Falklands War is dealt with in Tristán Bauer's stunning film Blessed by Fire, which was recently awarded the top narrative prize at this year's Festival.
The Falklands War is a painfully interesting topic. Fought over a few months in 1982, it was a conflict between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands, which are located off the southeast coast of South America. Cold, rainy and now filled with about 25,000 leftover land-mines, the small and barren territory seems pretty worthless in spite of the efforts of both nations to claim it as their own. For Argentina, at least, possessing the nearby land had to do with national pride. Their initial invasion was a minor success, but eventually the British prevailed and the war has been a sore spot on Argentina ever since.
In the war's 74 days, 635 Argentineans died in battle; in the last twenty years, 454 veterans have taken their own lives (British casualties/suicides are also horrible at 255/264, according to the Wikipedia). Blessed by Fire opens in the present as a vet named Vargas is rushed to the hospital after taking a large combination of alcohol and drugs. He is visited by Esteban, a well-balanced friend and fellow veteran, who suddenly begins to reflect on his service in the Falklands. The film flashes back to his and Vargas' experience while intermittently returning to the modern story, and aids in our understanding of the conflict by having Esteban watch news and documentary footage of the real events.
With the 1982 sequences, Bauer and his cinematographer, Javier Juliá, do a terrific job in showing the atmosphere of the war. The frigid tundra landscape is foggy and bleak and the nighttime battle scenes are dark and effectively confusing. The film displays the conflict as a hazy, dreadful affair in which there appears no hope or reason for the Argentinean army. There isn't any sense of mystery since we know the main characters' fates, but the flashbacks are still engaging, while the real emotional drama is faced in the modern-day scenes.
Blessed with Fire, which is inspired by the book Illuminados por el fuego, co-written by Edgardo Esteban and based on his experience in the Falklands, is a fairly specific and personal telling of the war. It doesn't attempt a complete, historical encompassment nor does it tackle the broader effects that Argentina has suffered as a result of the loss. For an event rarely thought about outside of its involved countries, though, the film is a remarkable achievement.