Camouflage review – the dark past of Argentina’s dirty war detention centres

<span>Startling if morbid … Félix Bruzzone in Camouflage. </span><span>Photograph: True Story</span>
Startling if morbid … Félix Bruzzone in Camouflage. Photograph: True Story

The dark past of Campo de Mayo, a military camp that once served as a vast detention centre during Argentina’s so-called dirty war, is excavated in Jonathan Perel’s haunting documentary. Following noted author Félix Bruzzone as he jogs alongside the infamous site, the film is structured around the writer’s run in which the past and the present entwine. His encounters with witnesses of the dictatorship’s atrocities show that history is far from dormant, but a living, breathing thing.

Having lived in the area, Bruzzone was only recently made aware of his family ties to the site. Abducted by the secret police and taken to Campo de Mayo, his mother was among the tens of thousands who “disappeared” under the military regime. This painful memory is mirrored by Bruzzone’s conversation with an archaeologist, who talks about the human bones buried under the base, as well as the lush vegetation that flourishes above ground. The juxtaposition is startling if morbid. Indeed, as an estate agent tells Bruzzone: in spite of the camp’s horrific legacy, the prices of nearby properties have steadily risen over the years.

At one point, Bruzzone roams through the landscape wearing a VR headset, which conjures 3D-images of the camp’s torture huts, now demolished. Invisible to the naked eye, the resurrected images are at once fragile and pregnant with meaning, pointing to the impossibility of fully representing past atrocities. At the same time, one sequence where Bruzzone talks with a young woman who sells the camp’s soil to tourists – which struck me as especially staged – turned out to be scripted, with the souvenir vendor played by an actor. Compared to other elements of the film, the transition between documentary and re-enactment is much less fluid. Perhaps this clumsiness is itself symbolic, signalling how the journey towards the past is far from a smooth progression, but instead full of gaps and stumbles.

• Camouflage is on True Story from 26 April.