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

On 23 Mar 1978, Tamburrini escaped Mansión Seré, a decrepit detention and torture center in the Morón neighborhood of Buenos Aires, along with Fernández, Daniel Rusomano and Carlos García. The portrayal of the detainees in Tamburrini’s book attracted interest from Uruguayan filmmaker Adrián Caetano. In his director’s statement, written in 2006 when the film first was released, he says that the essence of the production became the idea of four prisoners, kept in handcuffs, unclothed, in an empty room at what had once been an ornate, French-style country mansion abseiling from the window during a fierce nighttime thunderstorm. “Four young men naked in all senses,” Caetano emphasizes, “under the rain, hurt, bruised, scared, running without knowing what would be the end of their imprisonment.”

In Caetano’s formulation, the prisoners opted for life—a transcendent choice—while Tamburrini says the decision partially reflected a “suicidal attitude” especially on his part and that of the group’s leader, Fernández. The other two members of the contingent had to be coerced into leaving. In the film, as Fernández and Tamburrini improvise the liberating escape cord from bed linens, one of the detainees mutters, “This is wrong … you have no right.” The inhibitions demonstrate the prison keepers’ effectiveness at making inmates accept an unacceptable situation, such that one feels guilt even for contemplating departure.

Tamburrini’s character shows such doubts. Given an opportunity to assault one of the guards, as they are absorbed watching an Argentina football match on television in the house kitchen, Tamburrini hesitates. On this occasion, he opts for the relative predictability of house life, before fully internalizing the truth of the saying from one of his fellows that Tamburrini and the others, in the eyes of Argentine society, were dead. “We’re disappearing,” the inmate tells Tamburrini. “You’re disappearing.” The solution becomes a decision for unpredictability, a positive choice for escape such that “at the very least you can be sure that your ordeal will soon be over, for instance if the escape does not succeed, if it fails.”

To his overseers in Mansión Seré, known in shorthand as “Attila the Hun,” or Attila, Tamburrini assumed the identity of a university student, a suspected leftist and footballer. Along with others who lost their outside names within the military’s clutch, Tamburrini became “arquero” or “Almagro”; collectively, the imprisoned often were addressed as “girls” or “faggots.” Given Caetano’s commitment to cinematic truth, the actors appear naked much of the time, bearing the gashes and welts that recall a crucified Christ. From starting out as an abductee with no knowledge of the disappeared or the extent of the military’s ambitions of purging Peronists, Tamburrini gained the insight that his existence was under threat. His own dream of becoming a European-based footballer was all but over:

I was very naive, even politically. … I didn’t realize the magnitude of the horror that I was going to confront during my captivity. During the first week or the first two or three days I still expected to be released. … I was abducted on a Thursday. Some of the guards told me, “Unfortunately, you have to wait until Monday …” to be released. So I waited very hopefully for Monday to come and then to realize it wasn’t that easy. That helped me become a very experienced prisoner, because I was not an experienced prisoner during the first week. I was rather naive. I was thinking about life outside that detention center. That’s not good, because you have to realize when you are in that kind of situation that the only life you’ve got now is the life between those four walls.

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