Cinema | A soccer player’s escape from Argentina … into philosophy

Claudio Tamburrini, as portrayed by Argentine actor Rodrigo de la Serna in Crónica de una fuga (Chronicle of an Escape), makes what fellow prisoners within Mansión Seré see as an extraordinary request. The Almagro goalkeeper who became one of the “disappeared” in Nov 1977 asks for kitchenware with which to eat his meals. Moments later, spoons rattle as they are tossed onto the floor—one small achievement in a bid for human dignity.

Tamburrini, now a philosophy professor at Stockholm University, becomes animated when addressing this point within extra features contained on the Crónica DVD, released in North America on Aug 19. Does his character at this moment merely display an obsessive-compulsive nature? Tamburrini asks fellow prisoner Guillermo Fernández—the architect of their escape—nearly 30 years later. Or, appropriate to the goalkeeper’s unique perspective on football and life, does he make a more fundamental existential demand? “I am a human being … give me my cutlery.”

Landscape painter Derek Eland in “At the Match” captures the zeal possessing Argentina supporters at the start of the 1978 World Cup final on 25 Jun 1978, in Estadio Monumental. Dutch player Johnny Rep described the atmosphere at the start of the game as kokend (boiling). (© Derek Eland)

Tamburrini’s philosophical approach to the physical horrors of 120 days of imprisonment expresses one side of what he calls in an interview a “schizophrenic life” (audio below). Another side, about which he is also passionate, involves football. His father trained him “in a joyful manner” to play. He has maintained, by all appearances, this joy for the sport, persisting at age 53 within a Swedish amateur league; in interviews on the DVD, he demonstrates juggling skills, wears a Boca jersey and remains coy about his support for CA Vélez, although he confesses to staying up to 2 a.m. to watch the matches via satellite.

He titled his memoir Pase libre: La fuga de la Mansión Seré (Free Transfer: The Escape from Mansión Seré), recalling his primary anxiety on being abducted by Argentine military authorities on 23 Nov 1977 that his club would cut him loose. Indeed, Almagro, a second-division side, did relinquish ties with Tamburrini by making him available for “free transfer,” akin to purging him from the roster.

Other indignities followed for Tamburrini’s family and for other families of los desaparecidos, of whom there were some 30,000, the estimate offered by human rights groups. The military dictatorship governed Argentina between 1976 and 1983, initiating the so-called dirty war. Neighbors and friends shunned Tamburrini’s mother after his disappearance, a memory that has remained prominent.

Interview with Tamburrini, from Stockholm, Feb 28. (53:13)

He has encountered officials of Almagro on return visits to Argentina, as well as those who refused to speak with his mother. Again, Tamburrini’s views transcend personal experience to integrate the broader context of the period. “I don’t even know, actually, to be honest, if what they did was wrong,” says Tamburrini, “because what they did was provoked, of course, by fear. And who are we to judge? I don’t want to judge. … Why not talk about old times and look forward? That is what life is about.” Tellingly, Tamburrini does not criticize the Argentine military in his book; rather, he crafts what he calls a “Sartre-like novel” of existential terror.

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