Chronicle of Escape with Director Caetano

Set in Buenos Aires in 1977, “Chronicle of an Escape” is a true story of terror and survival from filmmaker Israel Adrin Caetano. A task force working for the fascist Argentine military government kidnaps Claudio Tamburrini, goalkeeper of a B-league soccer team, and takes him to a clandestine detention center known as Sere Mansion: a forbidding old building in the suburban neighborhood of Moron.

Claudio enters a living hell of interrogations, beatings, humiliations & betrayals. A nightmare world of arbitrary lunatic rules and relentless violence, mental and physical. Alongside other young detainees, he battles to survive while awaiting his fate to be decided.

After four months of imprisonment, with execution looking certain, Claudio and three other prisoners make their desperate move. Forcing open a window in the middle of a thunderstorm, completely naked, they jump into the void. Their flight into the future begins.

Survivors as Heroes

I have always admired survivors, those who do not give up when facing the impossible, who have been in Hell and realized that they must choose Paradise, even if it costs them their lives. I like survivors, antiheroes, those who act spontaneously. In Argentina, in 1977, an historic event occurred which was barely remarked and criminally ignored: the escape of four young men who – because of alleged left-wing ideas or sympathies, for having known somebody with those ideas, or for no clear reason at all – were kidnapped and tortured, forced to surrender information on their lives and those of others. They were imprisoned in a detention center known as Ser Mansion or Attila. Many were illegally detained and several of these disappeared were never heard from again.

I received from my producers a proposal to make a film inspired by a book written by Claudio Tamburrini, one of the men who escaped. I agreed, and we arranged a meeting in Stockholm, where Claudio lives, and where I also met Guillermo Fernndez, the man who initiated the breakout. Thus I was granted the opportunity of learning – from the book and from the protagonists – the truth about this event, so very important and yet so
unknown.

Four Naked Men

What attracted me most, besides the story itself, was the image of four young men naked, handcuffed, running at dawn beneath a furious storm, to escape from a hell that would affect their lives forever. The essence of the film was right there. Four young men, naked in every sense, hammered by the storm, injured, terrified, running without knowing where they would end.

I told myself I would make a movie starting from this image, a film about this story, which is also an essential part of Argentinas history. To achieve that final image of the escape, to make it move viewers as much as it had moved me when I imagined it, I had to try and recreate the hell that preceded it.

All hells are impossible to imagine fully; and their abstract essence makes it very hard to narrate them. Thus I decided to focus on the encounter of the four main characters; on getting to know them, gradually revealing their characters thereby revealing a light within the darkness of that hell.

“Chronicle of an Escape” (“Crnica de una Fuga”) narrates a horror, not in order to provoke horror but rather a better understanding of the relationships between prisoners in an extreme situation. This is a picture of life in the hell of an illegal detention center of the Argentine military dictatorship in the 70s. The filming was an endless challenge: shooting almost entirely within four walls, trusting the outcome to the acting, the framing, and the light. It was not always easy to generate fear, paranoia, and neurosis from this prison. Our challenge was how to re-create the madness these prisoners endured.

Chronicle of an Escape is a thriller about corruption, but this corruption is orchestrated; it arises from people following orders, without question. The film focuses on how torture causes human beings to disappear not a physical disappearance but a psychological one. And on how the mere fact of conceiving an escape in that madhouse, the very mention of it, itself becomes madness.

That is the reason why, I reiterate, I like people who act spontaneously: those who ignore the fact that what they are doing will transcend themselves. Because this madness was transformed utopically (forgive me if this word doesnt exist) and turned Hell upside down.

Books Written by the Military

I was a child during the first years of the dictatorship. Thus I had generals for teachers and books written by the military, overseen by temporary presidents. I lived through the establishing of the dictatorship. Today, time having passed, I am aware of to what degree it rooted itself not only in me, but in my entire generation, which it marked profoundly. There is a past still very much present in this country.

I adapted Claudio Tamburrinis book Pase libre la fuga de la Mansion Ser with two scriptwriters, Esteban Student and Julin Loyola. We approached the story as those who knew, who had heard and seen, but who had not directly experienced torture, either closely or from a distance. It is therefore a story above all told by someone who knows his subject only through reconstruction and investigation. We visited Claudio Tamburrini at his home in Stockholm. We were also able to rely on the collaboration of Guillermo Fernandez, another of the four prisoners who escaped from Ser Mansion. These encounters had a vitally determining influence on the writing of the script. The guiding principle of our adaptation was to stick as closely as possible to the theme of the book: survival.

Escaping Hell

We conceived the movie as the story of those who survived horror, told like a horror movie, while taking care never to tip over into the realm of morbidity a narrative already so rooted in terror. I must stress, what attracted me most strongly to the idea of this film was this story of survivors having escaped from hell. There was no need, at least as far as I was concerned, to paint a portrait of the dictatorship, but simply to use the framework in which the escape found its meaning and its force to be able to affect the viewer.

Raw Texture

The foremost aesthetic decision was to find a high contrast image with non-saturated colors. To this end, we used the bleach bypass technique (a process that avoids bleaching during the processing of the film). The image took on a much more raw texture, very grainy, with deep, deep blacks. Then there was the choice to film with a hand-held camera, which gave the film an edgy, nervy quality that helps convey the protagonists feelings to the audience. Close collaboration between the director of photography and the heads of design allowed scrupulous work on the tones and colors, the better to recreate the environment and feel we were seeking. Another aesthetic choice was the use of split fields, which allows one to focus simultaneously on a character in close-up and another, several metres away, retaining the viewers attention on all of them at once. The use of short focal lengths, above all in the early scenes in the house, and in the set-up of the escape, also contributed to magnifying the expressions of the actors, thereby allowing the audience to feel the internal tension of the protagonists, every step of the way.

Finding the Right House

Most difficult of all was finding the house. It was from the house that we structured everything else, in such a way that all would be coherent, and would serve equally cinematic requirements and those of historical verisimilitude. It was extremely painstaking work for the art director and designers, ensuring that the audience would not grow tired of this mansion in which we had to film for five weeks. Shooting in a house very similar to the real-life Ser Mansion was vital for the actors, during rehearsals and during the shoot, providing an ideal setting in which each could enter his character. Without any doubt, its very special making a work based on real events, above all when you know that the protagonists will be sitting in the auditorium, watching their own story as spectators. It was immensely gratifying to see on their faces – and those of their families – as they were leaving the screening, genuine approval of what they had just seen.