Cinéma du Réel 2022 review: Camouflage (Jonathan Perel)

“What Camouflage mostly shows though is that an ugly past should never be forgotten, no matter how beautiful the present looks.”

A couple of years ago Argentinian writer Félix Bruzzone, from whom the idea for Jonathan Perel’s documentary Camouflage comes, bought a house near the Campo de Mayo military base in the Greater Buenos Aires area. Bruzzone has a personal attachment to the base, because his mother was disappeared during the military junta of the late ’70s and early ’80s and kept on the base in one of its secret detention centres. After moving to the area he found out through research that his mother was also killed there. The base covers a massive area of 80 square kilometres, a lot of it forest, meadows, and rivers. Taking up running, Bruzzone jogs along the base and sometimes inside, trying to uncover its sinister secrets from the past.

After a conversation between Bruzzone and his grandmother (with whom he lived after his mother was disappeared) in which they think back on the scary years of the junta and their atrocities, Camouflage is made up of a series of encounters with people living in the area who one way or another have a connection to the base: somebody who in his childhood sneaked through the fence to play on the terrain, a survivor of clandestine detention during the junta who tried to get a memorial erected, a real estate agent who sees property prices going up, artists who draw inspiration from the base, and even somebody who collects dirt from the base to sell at the Plaza de Mayo (known best for its Mothers, who are in a similar situation as Bruzzone). Through these conversations in the present Perel paints a picture of this elusive place that is shrouded in mystery. Soldiers are like phantoms (Bruzzone only encounters them once), and there doesn’t seem to be much activity going on. Only ruins give a hint of the past; a past that, given the resistance against any sort of memorial or documentation centre, clearly still has echoes in our current times.

The contrast between the peaceful natural space Bruzzone and the people he meets move around in and the cruelties that have been perpetrated there in the past is poignant. As is the metaphor of Bruzzone often seen running. Is he running away from a truth he doesn’t want to know, or towards a truth he wants to uncover? The film opens with him running, barefoot, the camera holding a close-up of his feet. It ends with him again running without shoes on, as he ditched them after participating in an obstacle race held at the base. It’s as if he wants to shed everything that connects him to this place that has disrupted his family and disrupted Argentina. Bruzzone is inquisitive, with a sense of urgency, which heightens the feeling that Camouflage is trying to uncover something before it’s too late. It is not clear exactly what this entails, as the fact that Campo de Mayo was used as a clandestine detention centre was already common knowledge, but if the goal is to bring more attention to this somewhat obscure fact about Argentina’s Dirty War then Camouflage certainly succeeds. What it mostly shows though, next to Bruzzone’s personal connection to this story and the place, is that an ugly past should never be forgotten, no matter how beautiful the present looks.