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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 compunction.

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 life.

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 shows.

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