Review

Grim tales of Guatemalan civil war told in 'Finding Oscar'

A twisty, protracted fight for justice is deftly traced in “Finding Oscar,” an absorbing, if grim, documentary from producer-director Ryan Suffern (who co-wrote with Mark Monroe) and executive producer Steven Spielberg.

Pivoting around the 1982 massacre of more than 200 residents of the village of Dos Erres, Guatemala, by commando soldiers, the film spends most of its first half detailing the complex forces that led to this horrific event. These include Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, which began in 1960; the right-wing coup that made Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt the country’s de facto president (he served from 1982 to 1983), and then-U.S. President Reagan’s support for Ríos Montt.

But it’s the discovery, almost two decades after the Dos Erres genocide, that two young boys — Oscar Ramírez and Ramiro Cristales — had been abducted and raised by the very soldiers who had killed their families that moves the narrative into more personal and emotional territory.

A search ensues for Cristales (now living in Winnipeg, Canada) and, more dramatically, Ramírez, who had moved to Massachusetts in 2005 with wife Nidia. The hope: that Ramírez would serve as “living evidence” of the massacre and bolster the elusive case against its perpetrators. (Although several former soldiers were eventually sentenced to life in prison, Ríos Montt’s 2013 conviction was overturned; he awaits a re-trial.)

Lucid interviews with human-rights activists, attorneys, anthropologists, authors and others help frame this multi-faceted portrait. Ramírez’s reunion with the biological father he hadn’t seen since 1982 provides special poignancy.

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‘Finding Oscar’

No rating

In Spanish and English with English subtitles

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Edwards Westpark 8, Irvine

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