Alsino y el condor (1982)




Director:    Miguel Littin

Starring:     Dean Stockwell (Frank), Alan Esquivel (Alsino), Carmen Bunster (grandmother), Alejandro Parodi (major), Delia Casanova (Rosaria), Marcelo Gaete (grandfather)

radicalization of a young man in response to American atrocities in his small country



Spoiler Warning:

A small boy Alsino says that first there were two of them, but later he was alone and everything began to seem empty and dark. 

His grandmother taught him a lot of about plants.  She taught him which plants could heal. and which plants could poison.  Alsino says they had to cross the lake to reach their village.  And he has known the girl Lucia, daughter of Rosaria Gonzalez, all his life. 

An American named Frank tells a bunch of native military men that the American advisors and technicians are here to advise and support them.  To have continuity they have to be always checking the people with the police, informers, listening devices and data processors.  Another speaker says that in their fight to put down the insurgents, they have to be able to move their soldiers around quickly.

In a village, the people see refugees coming towards them.  They have hideous stories to tell.  "The helicopters flew over and fired on the unarmed people."  There were dead bodies flowing in the river. 

And now soldiers arrive in the village rushing in on jeeps.  Veliz, the teacher in charge of the village school, tries to talk with the officer, a Major, but the Major asks Veliz, doesn't he understand that any assembly is banned?  The educator says the children were hungry and thirsty.  The officer says that's no excuse.  The officer is driven off to his destination, a camp in the forest.  The Major tells a soldier to station the troops over there and set up the radio. 

Alsino says the soldiers said they were only going to be with them for a few days, but they stayed on and on.  One night he asks his grandmother, when will he be able to open his grandfather's chest with all its belongings?  She tells him she will tell him when it's time to open the chest. 

In the morning Lucia comes by and tells Alsino it's time to go to school.  Alsino says he's not going.  Lucia sees that Alsino is hanging his sheet and blanket on the clothes line and she teases him about wedding the bed again.  She starts running of to her school. 

Lucia tells Alsino to touch her where her heart is? He does so and she tells him his hands are like a man's, but his face is that of a boy.  Lucia also kisses Alsino.  Later they go tree climbing.  Alsino wants to try to fly like a bird off the branch of the tree.  He jumps, but is lucky for he doesn't hurt himself.  Frank the American was flying by in a helicopter when he saw Alsino try to fly.  But now, filled with soldiers, a jeep comes along the dirt road and the frightened children start to run up the hill, but the soldiers run after them and catch them both.  They want to know why the kids were running away from them? 

Frank sees the soldiers bringing in Alsino and Lucia.  He has seen those kids before, at the tree and he whistles and motions for the soldiers to bring them over to him.  They do so.  Frank asks the kids what they were trying to do?  Alsino says he was trying to fly like a bird.  Frank tells Alsino to wait until he's older and then Alsino can learn to be a helicopter pilot.  But don't climb on trees.  It's dangerous.  The kids now leave.

Major Garin says Frank is good with the native boys, but he has seen boys like Alsino who have killed government soldiers.  Frank tells the man that he better pay more attention to his own business.  The Major had no orders to fire into a certain village, but he did it anyway.  He says if the Major was in the US Army, they would have him court-martialed in no time.  As Frank leaves, the Major says to himself:  "Gringo son-of-a-bitch."

Frank gives Alsino a ride in his helicopter.  He tells Alsino, now he's flying.  He lands and lets Alsino off.  Lucia is waiting for him.  Then Frank tells his friend Ron to get Alsino over here and take a picture of the two of them.  Ron arranges and then snaps the photo.

Lucia is happy that Alsino got to ride in a helicopter, but Alsino says what he really wants to do is fly by himself, like the birds. 

Alsino opens his grandfather's chest.  He sees a telescope in the chest.  The next morning he goes tree climbing again.  He sits on his favorite branch and looks through the telescope at people and other things.

Alsino says he hasn't seen Manuel since the fellow went up into the mountains.  Through his telescope he sees a man and a woman kissing and hugging each other. 

Alsino takes Lucia out in a small sail boat on the lake.  Alsino dreams of sailing to Amsterdam, a city he saw on a postcard in his grandfather's chest 

A storm goes through the area at night.  Alsino walks outside to enjoy the strong winds hitting his body all over.  He goes to his favorite tree and climbs up to his favorite branch.  From there he jumps to the ground.  This time Alsino is hurt by the fall.  Grandmother takes care of him.  She says he wanted to fly, but now he has hurt his back so badly that maybe he will be a cripple for the rest of his life. 

Frank tells the native military men that they have pretty much succeeded in blocking off the rural population from the rebel nucleus on the mountain.   They have to evacuate all the villages surrounding the nucleus target area. 

The soldiers start moving the villagers out of their homes.  Alsino's living grandfather thinks a lion is loose in the surrounding area.  He grabs his rifle and goes out hunting for the lion.  He is stopped by a squad of soldiers. They take his rifle away.  Grandfather says he wants to see the Major, so they take him to the Major  Grandfather tells the Major that Manuel Salazar must be in the mountains, but he lives by the lake. 

The army is driving their prisoners away in two trucks.  Veliz is one of those prisoners.  The trucks stop during a rain and soldiers push the prisoners out of the truck Then the prisoners are shot down with a machine gun and their bodies fall into a large pit.  Gasoline is poured over the men and then the bodies, dead of alive, are lit on fire. 

Major Garin gets stinking drunk   He falls asleep and dreams that two soldier assassins rush in to shoot him dead.  But it was only a dream. 

Grandmother gets Alsino up for the morning.  Alsino is really stooped over because of his bad back from the jump.  His grandmother has him ride their donkey to the market place where she wants Alsino to find a buyer for the burro. 

Alsino sells the donkey and the saddle.  The men give Alsino a liquor drink and start calling him Hunchback.  He drinks it, but he doesn't really like it.  Now the men take him to a bordello.  The men and women start dancing and then slip off to private rooms.  Now it's Alsino's turn to go.  At first, he says no to one of the men, but when the pretty woman asks him to come, Alsino goes. She tells him to get on the bed, but he says he knows nothing about sex.  So, she lets him just sleep in the bed with her with his body close to hers.  Alsino enjoyed that.  

Alsino now walks back towards home.  A man stops him and asks him if he wants to earn some money?  Alsino says yes, so the man has Alsino carry two bird cages for him.  The man says his name is Nazario.  They take a break and Nazario says don't go over in a certain direction because that's the way to the fighting. 

When the two guys start walking again, they run into some soldiers.  The soldiers search them, but the guys are clean.  The soldiers tell them that there's a curfew and they better get off the roads. 

The guys go into a village and sell some birds for $20 dollars.  Nazario now gives Alsino three of those dollars.  But then Nazario takes the money back for his feeding the boy and for teaching him to be a bird salesman.  Alsino starts walking home.

Alsino sees a dead human being in the river.  Then he hears the army soldiers coming his way.  He gets off the road and hides.  The soldiers chase their village prisoners into the river and then shoot down everyone of them:  men, women and children. 

Alsino says then he left to go find Manuel in the mountains. 

Ron tells Frank that he's leaving tomorrow to go back to the USA.  Frank tells Ron that he thinks that he should stick around because they're doing something important here.  In fact, the drunken Frank becomes extremely angry with Ron and he goes on a tirade against poor Ron, saying things like either you're a communist or you're not. 

Some rebels find Alsino sleeping under a giant of a tree.  They take him along with them.  Alsino now sees the rebel camp.  They ask him who he wants to see in the camp and Alsino says "Manuel".  A rebel tells him that in this camp everyone is known as "Manuel".

Frank goes to work in the morning and learns that they have a dead American officer.  The dead man is Ron.  Frank asks what happened and he's told that it was an ambush.  Frank tells the soldiers that now they are going to war.  They are going to do some heavy bombing of the red zones. Then they will open up the field for the infantry to do a cleaning operation.

Alsino is walking along the road.  A man on horsebacks asks him if he is the Hunchback?  Yes.  Then Alsino should get home as fast as he can because his grandmother is delirious.  Soldiers pull another dead body out of the river.  Other soldiers go get a woman named Rosa Gonzales and tell her that the lieutenant wants to talk with her.  She goes with them.  Rosa is taken over to the body extracted from the river.  They ask her if she can identify the person?  Rosa says nothing.  Then she just leaves in disgust.  She cries as she goes back to her home.  She grabs her daughter Lucia and a shovel and goes back to bury her husband's body.  She tells the soldiers that she's going to bury her husband right here and not in the cemetery, because her husband did not die in peace.

By the time Alsino reaches home, his grandmother is dead. 

Major Garin is awakened and told that they all have to evacuate the area because they are going to bomb the zone.  The unit starts leaving but it is attacked in an ambush by the rebels.  Many villagers are caught in the bombings and are killed.   Garin didn't get away fast enough and he is caught in the bombing.  He grabs a weapon and goes around calling for Sgt. Gonzalez.  The kids and Rosa now charge the Major and tie him up with the rope they brought. 

Going back home again, Alsino burns his grandfather's chest and its contents.  He hears helicopters flying overhead.  Alsino goes outside to see.  It's Frank's helicopter.  The rebels are around and Alsino watches as they shoot down the helicopter with a rocket.  Part of Frank's helicopter lands in a tree. 

Alsino goes around picking up the government rifles from the dead bodies of government troops.  A rebel asks the Hunchback what's his name and Alsino shouts out "Manuel!" as he lifts his rifle in the air. 



The film was made in Nicaragua.  On the back cover it says:  "It has been acclaimed for its honest depiction of the clash between Central American governments and Sandinisto rebels."   Sandinistas were rebel activists.  The name came from Augusto CÚsar Sandino who led the Nicaraguan resistance against the United States occupation of Nicaragua in the 1930s.  The Sandinistas overthrew ruler Anastasio Somoza in 1979 and replaced the Somoza dynasty with a revolutionary government.  Of course, the USA gets scared of the leftists and, through the CIA, fund and train the Contras to overthrow the Sandinista government.  The Sandinistas lost the election in 1990 to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, but they retained a plurality of seats in the legislature.

The film deals with a little boy who is gradually radicalized against the United States and the Contras by seeing the war crimes they commit against the people of Nicaragua aligned with the Sandinistas.


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



Historical Background:


See Carla's Song (1997).



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