Sunday, September 19, 2004

Feature film on the Salvadoran war at the Toronto Film Festival

"Voces Inocentes" (Innocent Voices) is a new feature film that I think we'll all soon hear much more about. It just premiered last week at the Toronto Film Festival, and it's done by the Hollywood director Luis Mandoki ("White Palace" and "When a Man Loves a Woman"), who returned to his native Mexico to produce the film.

The film festival website has this description:

From the opening shots of soldiers’ boots in the mud to its penultimate scene of a young boy’s face as he contemplates the charred ruins of his former home, Innocent Voices is an unflinching look at the shattering effects of war on children who live directly in the line of fire. Yet it is also an unforgettable coming-of-age story in which one young boy manages to find the courage to keep his spirit alive in the midst of the terrible conflict ravaging his country.

Weakened by two years of fighting, the army of El Salvador has been forced to replenish its ranks with the nation’s young sons, most of whom are kidnapped in sudden and terrifying village raids. Eleven-year-old Chava watches as his friends are taken from his town, the last outpost on the way to the capital, but his feelings of powerlessness are altered one day when his Uncle Beto visits. On leave from guerrilla fighting, the charismatic uncle gives Chava a transistor radio and tells him to tune in to an underground station that plays forbidden protest songs, songs that slowly fill the boy with hope and a desire to fight against the odds. Innocent Voices treats an important and rarely explored subject – war recounted primarily from a child’s perspective – with an adept lyricism.

Mandoki has crafted a narrative rich in symbolism, most notably in the image of the “cardboard” houses themselves: as rain pours down on the flimsy shantytown in which Chava lives and buckets collect leaks from the corrugated iron roofs, we are reminded of the seemingly futile efforts of the most powerless people to stop the onslaught. Yet Chava’s actions at a pivotal moment serve as a powerful testament to the triumph of hope and faith, even in seemingly impossible situations.

In the end, Innocent Voices is a resounding celebration of the small acts of resistance performed by ordinary citizens, no matter their age.
I haven't seen the film reviewed yet, but 13 viewers in Toronto have unanimously given it a five-star, "awesome" rating.

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