Ken Loach’s contribution to 11′09″01, the anthology film about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, remembered a previous tragedy that had taken place on the same date. On September 11, 1973, Augusto Pinochet deposed the democratically elected Salvador Allende in a military coup, ushering in a brutal dictatorship that lasted till 1990.

The savagery that marked Pinochet’s reign is already evident in the events described in Costa-Gavras’s Missing (1982). Set in the coup’s immediate aftermath, Missing explores the disappearance of American journalist Charles (John Shea) and the efforts of his wife and father to track him down.

Missing can be rented from Prime Video. The movie has a documentary-style narrative, thriller-level tension, and a clarity about political involvement that is absent from the films it has inspired.

Thomas Hauser’s investigative book The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice serves as the basis for a movie that squarely implicates America’s involvement in the coup. More than the Chileans who pick dissidents off the streets at will, Missing targets the amoral role played by America in pursuit of its strategic interests.

After Charles’s wife Beth (Sissy Spacek) fails to locate him, Charles’s father Ed (Jack Lemmon) arrives in Santiago. Ed is a conservative, all-American businessman who is horrified to learn that Charles has been involved in what Ed calls “anti-establishment paranoia”. Through his frequent spats with Beth, who is the polar opposite in political views, Ed rediscovers a son he never really knew.

The American diplomats in Santiago, unable to dismiss Ed, lead him down the garden path. Ed and Beth persevere, meeting other wrongfully targeted activists and visiting the horror-filled prisons that have been documented in Latin American writing.

Costa-Gavras’s talent for revealing the reality of the situation without resorting to shock value or gimmickry is strongest in the simplest of scenes. Costa-Gavras shot Missing in Mexico, which convincingly stands in for a city overrun by soldiers and characterised by fear.

In a memorable scene, soldiers randomly shoot at a galloping horse. An extended sequence in a makeshift morgue baldly lays out the extent of Pinochet’s US-backed atrocities.

Missing (1982).

Missing has an urgency that has endured beyond its period setting. The Orwellian officialese spouted by the Americans will sound familiar to Indians who have been following the Bhima-Koregaon case or the prolonged incarceration of Umar Khalid. The despair of the missing journalist’s family resonates even today.

Costa-Gavras’s brilliance at humanising politics is especially evident in the tenderness that unfolds alongside the violence. Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon are both terrific, Lemmon particularly acing Ed’s personal evolution.

Ed’s frustration with Beth is as relatable as their eventual understanding is gut-wrenching. Ed comes to Santiago as a father looking for his son. He leaves as a political activist, a transformation that is painful and yet necessary if we are to learn anything from the Chilean assault on democracy, Costa-Gavras suggests.

Also start the week with these films:

‘Godzilla Minus One’ has thrills plus heart

The unforgettable revolution of the dogs in ‘White God’

In ‘Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry’, a woman’s desire takes flight