Innocent Voices (8/10)
by Tony Medley
Based on the personal
experiences of screenwriter Oscar Torres (Chava, played by ten-0year-old
Carlos Padilla), who escaped El Salvador and ended up working as a busboy
in Los Angeles while writing his script, this is an emotional picture of a
country embroiled in a vicious civil war (costing 80,000 lives between
1979-1991 when a cease fire was signed). It captures the uncertainty and
fear as war periodically erupts without warning.
The army sends recruitment
teams into the villages to abduct young boys as soldiers, and also marches
little boys off to be executed. For context, despite the epilogue that
seeks to cast blame on the United State for supporting the government, the
FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) are called guerillas here
and are pictured as heroes, but they were leftists who were supported by
Castro, and many consider them terrorists who raided and killed without
A beautifully atmospheric film,
it is highlighted by moving performances by Xuna Primas as Cristina Maria,
Chavaís little girl friend, and Leonor Varela, as Kella, Chavaís heroic
young mother, trapped in a nightmare trying to support and protect her
family without her husband who abandoned them.
I was particularly taken with
Kella, a young woman with two children whose husband runs away so he wonít
be abducted into the army, leaving her to raise and support herself and
her two children. She didnít have much to look forward to, living in a
shack in a shantytown village in the middle of the jungle, except
surviving for the next day. But, unlike her husband, she stayed and
persevered and accepted her responsibility to her children and her lot in
The problem with a movie like
this is that it is so well done with good admirable characters, it
seductively entices you into its point of view, which is clearly pro-FMLN.
I wasnít there, so I donít know if what Torres puts on the screen is true.
But I wonder why the government would march little boys off to execute
them? There seems no reason for this cruelty, but thatís what this movie
Even Jimmy Carter, of all
people, gave money to the El Salvador government to combat what he termed
ďanti-subversive brigades.Ē Carter, you will recall, is the person who
withdrew American support for the liberal Shah of Iran and lost Iran as
Americaís best ally in the Middle East, which is mainly responsible for
the mess today. So if Carter gave money to combat the FMLN itís hard to
think of them as liberators, although there is the argument that Carter
was so clueless that he didnít know his elbow from third base. However,
when Ronald Reagan became President, he increased Carterís aid to the El
Salvador government in combating the FMLN.
If you enter the movie with
this context in mind, itís one of the better films you will ever see showing
how war affects the little people who are just trying to survive amidst
all the bullets that are flying all over the place.
October 9, 2005