Starring: Antonio de la Torre, Chino Darín, Alfonso Tort
Director: Álvaro Brechner
Running Time: 122 mins
A Twelve-Year Night (La noche de 12 años) is a Uruguayan film about the story of the true story of three political prisoners who were subjected to over a decade of brutal imprisonment under the orders of the country’s military dictatorship.
As far as true stories go, A Twelve-Year Night is a pretty incredible one, and fairly unknown around the world, too. An enthralling tale of human resilience in the face of torture, injustice and mental fatigue, it details the agonising twelve-year endurance of three liberation fighters in brutal fashion, making for an engrossing watch throughout, albeit one that’s not half exhausting either.
If you’re from Uruguay, or know the country’s history well, then this story won’t be all too unfamiliar to you, but for many this is a brand new history, and one with real historical significance. While it has the intense and at times devastating tale of imprisonment and injustice, its most powerful and moving suit actually comes in the form of what happened long after this story.
It’s a good thing to know beforehand – and one that most Uruguayans will of course know – that these three prisoners went onto become major figures in Uruguayan politics and culture, following the collapse of the military dictatorship, with one, José Mujica, being elected President of the country in 2010.
It’s a piece of information worth knowing, because it lends a strong poignancy to an already very moving story, and with it allows you to reflect on the importance of fighting and resisting an oppressor, no matter how hard it is or how long it takes.
As depicted in the story, the brutality that the prisoners face is appalling, with an unforgiving and unapologetic military regime deliberately placing them in the most unlivable conditions, with the explicit order to send them insane.
In that, A Twelve-Year Night, as physically brutal as it often is, is more about the mental toll that the trio face through their twelve-year ordeal, featuring long periods of silence that demonstrate just how difficult it can be to be left with absolutely nothing but your own thoughts.
And as the three balance on the tightrope between sanity and insanity, they continue to hold strong as individuals and a team, a further testament to their undying resilience both to their own cause and life as a whole, something that’s portrayed vividly by the fantastic lead performances from Antonio de la Torre, Chino Darín and Alfonso Tort, who give a frank and unrelenting portrayal of the mental horror of a twelve-year imprisonment.
Saying all of that, however, A Twelve-Year Night still feels really quite overlong. You’d think an exhausting, overlong duration would be the perfect tribute to this trio’s legendary resilience. However, as appropriate as that may sound, it’s more problematic in the fact that it leaves the same themes on display for just too long, making the film feel a little repetitive and unfortunately boring at points.
Because of the story’s depth and poignancy, it’s far from a boring watch throughout, but too often does it sit with one idea or theme at the front of its mind for an overlong period, and that repetitiveness really takes away from the burning tension that pervades through the whole story, which I was really disappointed to see.
Overall, though, A Twelve-Year Night is an engrossing and often brutal watch. Telling a story with real historical significance, and bringing moving and devastating emotion into the mix, it’s a fascinating watch throughout, although loses some of its power and intensity as a result of an overlong runtime, frustrating thematic repetition and inconsistent pacing, so that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4.