Last year, Santiago Mitre’s Argentina, 1985 recreated one of the most important events in Argentine history, performed by the country’s most renowned actor, Ricardo Darín. As prosecutor Julio Strassera, he read the final indictment in the historical Trial of the Juntas, which prosecuted the leaders of the last dictatorship. It was a cathartic scene that ended with the iconic phrase ‘Never Again.’
But foreign audiences will probably remember a different scene from Argentina, 1985: a woman named Adriana Calvo de Laborde giving a desperate testimony about how, as a pregnant woman kidnapped by military forces, she was forced to deliver her baby while handcuffed in the back seat of a police car. The scene is intense and devastating, mostly thanks to the performance of the actress who played Calvo de Laborde in a full close-up —the witness’s faces were hidden from cameras in the actual trial— and delivered the exact, heartbreaking words of her real-life deposition.
The actress is Laura Paredes, and that single appearance in the film earned her a Silver Condor award (given by the Argentine Film Journalists Association) for Best Supporting Actress.
“There was a silence after every take that was unlike any other film shooting. It was so strange. I would turn around and see everyone in the set was crying,” recalls Paredes on the phone with the Buenos Aires Herald.
It was a pivotal point, both in the actual trial —Adriana was the first victim who testified, and her horrific experience reportedly dissipated many doubts about the actions of state terrorism among the population— and in the film itself.
“I read the entire script, and that was the moment you broke down. That’s the point where I started crying,” says Paredes. “After Adriana’s testimony, the entire mood of the film changes.”
Talented and ubiquitous
The first time Laura Paredes spoke with the Herald, her appearances on Buenos Aires stages and screens were piling up faster than an interviewer could keep up with —and her ubiquitousness would only expand later. Mitre’s film was making history, about to compete for an Oscar, and Trenque Lauquen, the indie hit film she stars in and co-wrote with director Laura Citarella, was packing every screening at the landmark arthouse cinema Sala Lugones. It’s still playing at the Malba Museum film theater, where its audience success has kept it on for months since premiering in February.
A two-part story about a young botanist who disappears in a provincial town in Argentina and is being searched for by two men, the four-hour film is a comedy thriller, a love story, a sci-fi mystery, and an exercise in storytelling in the form of a joyous and liberating reflection on issues like motherhood and freedom, with a distinct women’s perspective. The film took several years to make, with many rewrites across the pandemic and both Citarella and Paredes’ pregnancies.
“I started shooting when my son Pedro was eight months old, my head was everywhere, and at one point we felt we had a script that was sort of naive, given everything that had happened to us,” says Paredes. “The film ended up mutating, and now the issue of motherhood is kind of a key in the film.”
Paredes was also starring in two different plays: audience-favorite Petróleo, an ongoing hit that premiered in 2018, and Mariano Tenconi Blanco’s Las cautivas (which is still playing).
Petróleo is the fifth play by the Piel de Lava company, which she forms with actresses Pilar Gamboa, Elisa Carricajo and Valeria Correa — born out of the Buenos Aires booming independent theater scene of the early 2000s, it became one of the finest theater companies in the country. This particular play is a crowd-pleasing, hilarious take on the Argentina patriarchy where the actresses play four men working in an oil rig and made the jump to the mainstream theater scene.
“It has gone through so many audiences, from the more experimental Sarmiento theater to the San Martín, and now commercial theater —and it always works,” Paredes said. “A friend of mine told me the secret of the play’s success is that it has a very popular language, but the story is also very complex. Simple, but complex. I liked that idea.”
“It’s weird, because it premiered many years ago and yet it’s still kind of a new play for us. There are times we are about to burst into laughter under our mustaches,” she adds.
In Las cautivas, Paredes plays a young French woman captured by Indigenous peoples in 19th-century Argentina. The play is organized in alternating monologues by Paredes —who delivers hers in rhyme— and co-star Lorena Vega, who plays the Indigenous woman who kidnaps her.
“The hardship and the beauty was that these were monologues, each character is defined by the other’s descriptions,” Paredes said. “To have that become pure image and get the audience wanting to follow it, that was the big challenge.”
This wasn’t the first time Paredes played a cautiva. The Piel de Lava actresses played four white women escaping from Indigenous captors across the pampas in the final, mesmerizing episode of Mariano Llinas’ masterpiece La flor, a 14-hour episodic film where they play different characters across five different episodes, a film that took almost ten years to complete.
Llinás is not only one of the most renowned art-house filmmakers in Argentina today (and the co-scriptwriter of Argentina, 1985). He is also her partner in real life and the father of her son.
“I’d say that the film is about the four of them. And, in some way, it’s for the four of them,” said the director in the opening of the film.
A director’s battlefields
By the time of Paredes’ second call with the Herald a couple of weeks later, she had also appeared in several films at the Buenos Aires Film Festival and started an artistic residence with Piel de Lava at the new Arthaus contemporary art center, focused on yet another interesting and current topic.
“We are researching parliamentary speeches and performances, but mostly focused on the new right wing and its women leaders, who are about our age,” she said, describing the fun of trying out accents and investigating parliamentary protocols. “I think it came to us because this sort of political performance show is always there around us. And we also liked to treat it as an international phenomenon, so we would take it away from local politics and open it up a bit.”
She had also just re-opened the play she premiered in 2021, Lorca. An eclectic take on the Spanish playwright and poet Federico García Lorca, the piece was part of the Invocations series, a project curated by writer-journalist Mercedes Halfon that partners contemporary authors with classics like Bertolt Brecht or Antonin Artaud.
“Framing the play in that series really helped me, because I still wasn’t sure what to do. And the ‘invocation’ framework gave me total freedom. I didn’t want to stage a play by Lorca, I wanted to do a play about Lorca,” she says.
The result was an ideal blend: a play about two rival Argentine scholars who prepare for a conference on Lorca, set on a bullfighting stadium in a dystopic future in Almería.
Paredes had originally planned to do a “performative conference,” but things found their way back to fiction.
“Whenever I try to make something different from fiction, I end up writing a play,” she said. Paredes told the Herald that she considered inviting Llinás to join the process when bullfighting emerged as a theme.
“Mariano is very attracted to the bullfighting universe, the whole Spanish thing, and Lorca. So I invited him to write it together.”
The couple wrote the play during the pandemic. It was the first time they wrote something together and Llinas’ first entry to the playwriting universe. And although she says it was a very positive experience, she admits it was also a “field battle”.
“Mariano has a manic habit. I am used to a group, where we discuss everything. And he won’t debate. So he just takes away your laptop, because it’s easier for him to write down what he wants, rather than explaining it to me”, she recalls, laughing.
Funnily enough, audiences will be able to catch a glimpse of that dynamic in Llinás’ own Clorindo Testa, which won the best film award in the Bafici’s Argentine official competition and will premiere next weekend at Malba. A hybrid, first–person meta documentary about a book Llinas’ father wrote analyzing the work of Argentina architect and artist Clorindo Testa, the film features Paredes playing herself in one single scene, scolding the director about the reasons why he is actually making it.
“We are the cruelest audience of each other’s work. It’s like we try to impersonate the most vicious spectator for a play or a film,” she says.
“I think it’s an act of love for each other.”
Paredes ends each conversation with the Herald saying she’s available and willing to provide more answers if needed — but further conversations would probably just create more questions to be answered as her ongoing projects continue to multiply.
“The other day a friend was telling me ‘it’s that you’re so busy right now…well, you’ve always been busy, ever since you were 12,” she says laughing.
“So I guess I’m always like this.”