JOYCE HORMAN is talking about her search for the truth. Her cornflower blue eyes gaze into the distance, like she's staring into a camera lens. She's used to questions about her husband, Charles, a filmmaker and journalist whose execution in Chile during a 1973 military coup was dramatized in the Oscar-winning movie ''Missing.''
Yet, suddenly, her steady Midwestern cadence wobbles. Tears start to roll, leaving a streak of mascara on her cheeks. She sits up straight, shaking out her hands as if to will herself out of this weepy state.
''Sometimes, it just comes out and I don't know why,'' she says with a short, embarrassed laugh.
Mrs. Horman's life revolves around her dead husband. She makes her home in the memento-filled penthouse apartment in which Mr. Horman was raised on East 76th Street. She is in the thick of legal action to find out exactly what happened to him. She's also organizing a gala ceremony on May 15 to honor the 20th anniversary of the 1982 film by Constantin Costa-Gavras. (Sissy Spacek played her, while Jack Lemmon played Mr. Horman's father and John Shea played Mr. Horman.) The event, at Studio 54, is to take place on what would have been her husband's 60th birthday. She hopes to renew interest in her husband's case in a preoccupied world.
''This is headquarters,'' Mrs. Horman says apologetically about the living room clutter. Several writing desks are piled high with stationery marked the Charles Horman Truth Project, which is financed mainly by the Ford Foundation. She established the project to support investigations of abuses carried out during the 17-year dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Her hope of uncovering the truth behind her husband's murder was rekindled in 1998 with General Pinochet's arrest in London on a Spanish warrant charging him with human rights violations. Mrs. Horman, 57, decided to devote herself to her husband's case after working for 30 years as an information technology consultant.
''It was the happiest day of my life when Pinochet was arrested,'' she says, smiling.
Composure regained, Mrs. Horman slips her large, oval glasses back on and talks about the circumstances surrounding her husband's death. There are the declassified State Department documents, released in late 1999, that suggest that the Pinochet regime would not have killed her husband when it overthrew Salvador Allende, the Socialist president, without a green light from American intelligence -- a claim denied by American officials for two decades.
''That really riled me,'' she says, referring to the details in the files. She filed a criminal suit in Chile in December 2000 seeking responses from Henry A. Kissinger, the former secretary of state, among other Nixon administration officials, who supported coup plots there. She thinks her husband died because he knew too much.
As it happens, the Chilean coup was on Sept. 11. So, what is it like now, trying to get your message across after last Sept. 11?
''It's very hard,'' she says, sounding more resigned than bitter. ''People absolutely don't want to hear about it. They don't want to know the United States government overthrew a democracy and upheld a brutal dictatorship that was violating human rights.
''They don't want to know that the United States was on that side, because then you have to listen to complaints about the United States that come from the rest of the world. They only want to talk about fighting terror. I understand that. It comes from a terrible fear and sorrow, but it's a simplistic and dangerous way to go forward.''
As Mrs. Horman talks, her hands are clasped around a balled-up pink napkin. She considers herself a bit shy. Even so, she's certainly been out there, traveling the world to publicize her husband's case.
HER apartment, though, feels cloistered. It is decorated with artwork painted by her mother-in-law, Elizabeth, who died last year and once lived there alone. Mrs. Horman moved in from a downstairs apartment, where she had lived since the late 1970's.
Mrs. Horman also dabbles in art. There's an unfinished painting: bright slashes on a canvas, perched on an easel in a guest room. She goes to a bookshelf, pulling out a photo album, in which her husband is frozen in time.
There's a photo of Mr. Horman as a student at Exeter; another one of the mutton-chopped Harvard graduate who became a writer for left-leaning publications like The Nation. The couple married in 1968 after meeting in Europe. There's a photo of the camper they drove to South America in 1971. ''Charlie was interested in the socialist thing and I was interested in being with Charlie and traveling,'' she says.
The daughter of a supermarket owner in Minnesota, she took skis.
When ''Missing'' came out, Mrs. Horman was undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma, which has been in remission for 20 years. She regards the film as seminal. ''It played a very important role in raising international consciousness about the wrongness of human rights crimes,'' she says.
Mrs. Horman has never remarried. As the conversation winds down, she steps onto a sunny terrace of blooming plants. She finds peace there. Does she have anything to say to people who want her just to move on? ''The sadness is still there, and the need to have the truth is still there, and every family of any victim would tell you that,'' she says. ''It's not that you wouldn't like to go on with your life; it's that you can't. You need to have that truth not hidden, not denied.''