By Kirk Honeycutt
TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - Luis Mandoki returns to his native Spanish and Latin American themes for the first time since his debut Mexican feature in 1987 with "Innocent Voices," a poignant yet harrowing account of children, and in particular one rambunctious boy, during the Salvadoran civil war.
You immediately sense Mandoki's profound affinity for this subject and its characters, a passion not always evident in his routine Hollywood movies.
"Innocent Voices" is a riveting tale of survival and how even war cannot diminish a child's indomitable spirit. The film should find highly appreciative audiences in specialty venues in North America and Europe as well as in cinemas throughout Latin America.
First-time screenwriter Oscar Torres has drawn on his own incredible experiences as a child trying to grow up in El Salvador during the civil war of the '80s. A father abandons his poor family at the outbreak of war to go to the U.S., leaving Chava (Carlos Padilla) as the "man of the house." A naturally happy kid, Chava lives in a rude shack with his sister, younger brother and hard-working mom (fast-rising Chilean actress Leonor Varela). The army is already "recruiting" 12-year-old boys, pulling them at gunpoint from classrooms at the local school. Chava is 11, meaning he has one year left.
Their village lies between the capital and the guerrilla forces, making it a constant battleground. Many nights, the frightened family hits the floor or ducks behind upturned mattresses to escape bullets that pound through the cardboard walls. During daytime, Chava stake his claim to normalcy by attending class, falling in love with a pretty classmate, playing games with his pals along with the village idiot (Gustavo Munoz) and getting a job on a bus to help out with expenses.
His uncle (Jose Maria Yazpik), who fights for the guerillas, has given him a transistor radio so he can listen to the forbidden guerrilla broadcasts and especially its banned musical anthem. He witnesses the soldiers' harassment of the local priest (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) and their abduction of young girls to satisfy their lust.
The war finally forces the family to move in with their grandmother (Ofelia Medina), but even here they are not safe. Soldiers raid the village to kidnap more children to become soldiers. The boys learn to hide on the corrugated tin roofs of the houses.
Pedilla, who has acted in telenovelas, has an expressive face and superb acting ability that allows him to carry the film. (He is in virtually every scene.) His spirit makes this an uplifting film rather than a huge downer.
His Chava is a resilient child, clearly unafraid of death yet deadly afraid of being recruited to kill. Varela's mother is resilient too only as an adult, fear rules her life as her family is exposed to constant danger.
Mandoki and his accomplished cinematographer, Juan Ruiz Anchia, resist the temptation to make a gritty film about warfare; instead they shoot the lush jungle, town and the villages in delicate, pleasing colors, creating a dramatic contrast between the carnage taking place and the land's great beauty.
"Innocent Voices" accomplishes this: It shows warfare from a child's perspective as well as from an omniscient observer's point of view as the camera sweeps up above villages and into trees to show us rain pelting the shantytown and soldiers industriously going about their murderous business. It is at once intimate and epic.
The film was shot in Mexico with a top-notch crew, which along with Andre Abujamra's Latin-flavored musical score gives "Innocent Voices" a persuasive sense of the hell that was rural El Salvador of 20 years ago.
Thursday, September 23, 2004
More on "Innocent Voices"
A review has now come out on the new feature-length film on El Salvador, "Innocent Voices," and it is very encouraging. The review is from Reuters/Hollywood Reporter, but I'm not sure how long it will be online, so I'll print most of it here.
Posted by David at 9:18 AM
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Heather, Paul and I went to the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday night and saw an incredible film titled Voces Inocentes, or Innocent Voices. This film was one of the most powerful pieces of cinematography I've ever seen and depicted the horrors of the civil war that dominated El Salvador throughout the 1980s, as told from the point of view of 11-year old Chava. Though some people have asked, "Why would you pay money to see such a sad film?", my reponse is that as members of a stable and incredibly privileged society where we have almost unlimited liberties, the absolute least we can do is to be socially aware of the horrendous conditions in which so many people are forced to exist. I think everyone can take two hours out of their lives to contemplate the sad state of our world.
As a returned El Salvador Peace Corps volunteer I'm very interested in this movie. Any idea about release date, etc?
Today La Prensa Grafica has a story noting that the Mexican Academy will be sending "Voces Inocentes" to the Oscars as their selection for best foreign film.
You'll just have to keep checking the web, etc., to see when it comes out. But it seems that it might do moderately well--as well as films not produced in English ever do in the US!
I can not wait to see this film. I read the script in one of its earlier incarnations and was completely devestated and blown away by it. What it transformed into was completely compelling and so intimate and even more so because this is Oscar's story. Ridiculously proud of him and looking forward to celebrating him the night of the Oscars!!! Must be fate.
I am currently visiting El Salvador on a delgation to learn about and promote fair trade coffee. A group of of people saw this movie in San Salvador two days ago.
This is an incredible movie that is very sad but so well done. Great insight into what it must have been like to live here during those times. We had just visited the Jesuit Univ. that same day to see the sight where the 6 priests and two domestic workers were murdered by special troops trained by the US military.
We sas the movie in spanish and understood little dialog but still got the just of the movie. I would like to see it with sub titles and strongly reccomend it anyone who wants to know what it was like for some people during the civil war that was supported by US government. Unfortunately, things are not a whole lot better here in El Salvador. The killing has stopped, the wealth and power are even more concentrated in the hands of few and the repression of the poor, the cause of the war is just as great.
jlw2 at psu.edu
cant find the at sign on this keyboard
I think this movie should be seen by everyone in the u.s, so they could realize that the term "war hero" does not exist and the horrors portrayed here are just a mere example of what goes on in many places in the world thanks to Uncle sam`s hidden agendas.
off course, the movie will do very well in some places in Latin America, while in some other places it might be censored or obstructed, (e.g):oscars.
why? because , as always, in some way or another truth hurts.
Just saw this film and my opinion is a lttile biased. The movie was very good but it could have been better. Im judging the characters that did not portray El Salvador in an accurate manner. No one had El Salvadoran accents or dialouge and no Salvadorian terms. I was waiting for at least one term like sipote or bicho but nothing. No vos or sos of any kind. The movie was good but could the director or writer, who is El Salvadorian, make an attempt to at least try to make them sound El Salvadoran. Hopefully our voices will be just as loud as Mexcians, Cubans, and Porto Ricans but until then I have to watch Gael Gonzales at leat make a notewrothy attempt at sounding like an Argentino in the Motorcycle Diaries.
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