Iluminados por el fuego (Blessed by Fire) (2005) 




Director:     Tristn Bauer.

Starring:     Gastn Pauls (Esteban Leguizamn), Pablo Riva, Csar Albarracn, Hugo Carrizo, Virginia Innocenti, Juan Leyrado, Arturo Bonn, Jon Lucas (Doblajes), Mario Chaparro (Tony Lestingi), Carlos Garmendia (Doblaje), Lautaro Delgado.

Argentine anti-war film about the Falklands War


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Esteben, a journalist in Buenos Aires, Argentina, receives a phone call from Marta, the estranged wife of a dear friend who was a war buddy with him in the Malvinas War (a.k.a. the Falklands War).  His buddy Vargas is in a coma from an attempt to take his own life with a mixture of alcohol, pills and cocaine.  Over 290 veterans of the Malvinas War had committed suicide.  The number of suicides was equal to the deaths on the Islands during the war.  The suicide brings back to Esteben some very unpleasant memories of a futile war.  He returns to his home and kisses his daughter Sofia who is already sleeping.  So is his wife.  He stays up for awhile to watch some television.  Images from the war flash before his eyes,

Air Base IX, April 1982.  The soldiers are getting ready to go aboard the transport planes that will takes them to the Malvinas.  Esteben asks the sergeant for permission to go to the bathroom.  Permission granted and Esteben heads not to the bathroom, but to the telephone to call his mother to tell her he is going to the Malvinas.  After awhile, the sergeant goes to check on him.  He is none too pleased when he finds Esteben on the phone. 

Esteben is working on a documentary on the war.  His assistant has gathered a number of news clips.  One is of the politicians who pushed forward the idea of war saying things like:  "The world should know that a country which is as fiercely determined as Argentina is, will stand up to anyone.  Let them come if they want!  We will fight!"  Another clip: "Few Argentineans doubt that the war was a military tragedy and a severe setback for the country's chances of recovering the Malvinas, seized by England 150 years ago."  British war ships sail for the Falklands.

Malvinas, May 1982.  Esteben is on one of the cliffs overlooking the ocean.  Other soldiers are stationed at other points along the cliffs.  They have dug little caves in the earth to protect themselves against air and sea attacks.  The men are really cold.  A number of them are shivering from the cold.  We see one guy with only tennis shoes on, instead of army boots, walking in thick mud. 

The lieutenant speaks to the assembled men:  "I don't see fiber in you soldiers.  I don't see morale.  I see a bunch of sissies and half-hearted recruits, shit-scared and freezing cold, who don't understand and don't want to believe we're going to win this war."  Suddenly the shout goes out:  "Red alert!"  A British plane streaks over them and drops a bomb near them.  The lieutenant tells the sergeant to get the men into position. 

The men complain about the lack of supplies.  The bread is like a rock and the coffee tastes like piss.  One soldier has already had enough and talks about shooting himself in the leg in order to go back home.  The poor fellow cries all night.  Esteben is close to Juan Chamorro and Alberto Vargas. 

Back at the hospital, Marta talks about Vargas.  She tells Esteben for quite a few years she and Vargas had a good life.  But then they closed the factory and he was unemployed.  Like all the veterans, he had to start borrowing money and everything started to go downhill. 

On the Malvinas, the three buddies look as if they have just sighted the British and are plotting their attack.  But it is not soldiers they are after, but sheep.  The men are desperately hungry.  They grab one of the sheep and kill it.  At night they cook and eat it.   Vargas worries that his girlfriend Marta might start a relationship with another man.  The military did not even give him time to say good-bye to her. 

Vargas walks to find a place to put the sheepskin and bones.  The sergeant catches him and demands to know what he is carrying.  When he finds out, he says Vargas is a thief and should be shot.   The sarge pushes him down onto the ground.  He then makes him get up and roughs him up a bit and makes him crawl on the ground like a snake.  His two buddies run to the sarge and admit they are just as guilty as Vargas.  The sarge threatens to shoot them.  He says he has gotten rid of a lot of pretty boys.  He asks them to pray.  He has Esteben and Juan crawl back to their hole.  Sarge takes Vargas to see the lieutenant.  Vargas with all extremities spread is staked to the ground.  It is raining and freezing cold.  He shivers and shivers through the ordeal. 

Back to the present.  Marta calls Esteben to say that the doctor has told her that Vargas has improved a bit. Esteben comes to the hospital to see her and then he accompanies her to her former home.  She has not lived with Vargas for awhile.  She tells Esteben how she had to put up with everything from Vargas, such as his bad spells; not having any money; becoming an activist with the veterans; and fighting with those same veterans.  He would drink and become very jealous of her and then hit her.  Esteben says that the two or three times he talked to Vargas after the war, he would say that they had to go back to the Malvinas. 

On the Malvinas, the men are very scared.  They can hear shelling taking place in the distance.  Vargas is back in their hole, but he's a wreck.  In the morning, the lieutenant and sergeant arrive to tell the men that they have a mission at the battlefront.  They give the men some equipment that they are to take to Sergeant Garrido.  Vargas is still in the hole.  The lieutenant tells the sarge that Vargas has to go too.  The sarge is dubious, but he shouts into the hole for Vargas to come out.  Vargas says:  "I can't move.  I'm sick."  Sarge asks him if he wants to be staked out again.  Vargas drags himself out.  He looks like a mess, coughing and crying.  The sarge is mad about his crying.  Esteben, Juan and Vargas have to carry the equipment.  Vargas falls behind and then collapses on the muddy road.  Esteben goes back to help him and Vargas tells him:  "I can't go on."  Esteben helps Vargas get to his feet.  Soon they learn that they cannot go directly to the front.  They have to go around a section that is heavily mined. 

Back to the hospital.  Esteben talks to the unconscious Vargas.  He says that he can't stop thinking about the war ever since he came to the hospital to see him.  All the ghosts are now knocking at his door.  "I can see them, smell them."  He then tells Vargas to wake up.  They have to go back to the Malvinas. 

On the Malvinas, at night the men get into a hell of a firefight.  The Argentineans start taking very heavy casualties as one soldier after another is cut down.  Wounded men are on the ground screaming and writhing in pain.  Esteben and his buddies see many of their comrades pulling back.  Then they hear the command to fall back, to retreat.  A wounded soldier cries for his mother.  There is some hand-to-hand fighting.  Again the command to retreat is given.  Esteben starts running as fast as he can away from the battlefield.  A shell explodes near him and he goes down.  It takes him awhile to recover from the shock and regain his hearing and his bearings.  He starts to retreat again but runs into a prone Juan, who dies in his arms.  Vargas screams for Esteben and/or Juan.  Estben goes to Vargas and tells him they have to move and move now.  Back in their hole, Esteben is shaking like a leaf.  Vargas is badly wounded in the leg.  Esteben puts something wrapped up in a plastic bag into a corner of the hole.  As shells rain down around his hole he shouts to tell the bastards to stop, stop!

Esteben is told he has to report to the sarge.  The sarge tells him to report to the lieutenant.  The lieutenant tells him to start packing all his belongings, including a large cassette player.  Vargas gets out of his hole and starts limping away from the area.  The lieutenant tells Esteben to take the bag to where he tells him, but Esteben refuses.  The lieutenant goes ballistic, but Esteben just says:  "You take it.  I have to help a wounded comrade."   The lieutenant shouts at him:  "We're losing because of faggots like you!"  Esteben responds:  "No, it's because you're all incompetent!"  He then pushes the lieutenant aside and heads out to find Vargas. 

Esteben is knocked over again by another explosion.  Two guys pick him up and start heading for the rear.  Esteben says he has to get Vargas, but they just ignore him.  Later, released by the two men, Esteben keeps shouting for Vargas.  Vargas, despite his limp, gets pretty far.  At least far enough so that Esteben can find him.  Vargas says he is staying where he lies.  He can't get up.  But Esteben grabs him, lifts him up and forces him to the rear.  Sarge shouts at the men to gather at the governor's house.  He adds:  "We're entering Puerto Argentino!  The enemy may be waiting for us." 

The men are dragging themselves back looking totally dejected.  Esteben delivers Vargas to the infirmary.  The doctors says that it is too late to save the leg.  Vargas starts panicking.  The doctor tells Esteben to get out now.  Esteben feels as if the world is spinning around him with horrible sights wherever he looks.  He gets himself out of the infirmary.  Outside he collapses and sleeps. 

The men are dejected, but one man sees a volleyball and starts kicking it around.  Soon other men join in the game.  Esteben watches the action for awhile.  Someone scores a goal.  An officer says to his men that a ceasefire has been ordered on the entire island.  But he adds that "we are under the orders of the British commanders."  He also says that the men have fought well and will be honored by all Argentineans as heroes.  Esteben looks blank shivering in the cold. 

A narrator says:  "Despite our efforts, the bravery of some, and the courage of our pilots, who flew low over the English ships, the improvisation, sadism, and treachery of those who had tortured their own people had led us to defeat.  The English didn't need to use the nuclear weapons that were on their ships.  The support of NATO and aid from the U.S.A. helped them seize a territory that wasn't theirs.  They took our islands again and rejoiced over our blood.  We buried our dead and, defeated, returned to the mainland.  Our officers hid us in the barracks.  We were forced to stay silent.  Why not talk about the Malvinas?  Who thought we were heroes?  Who hailed our homecoming?  Our return to life?  When I got home, I was expecting banners.  People welcoming us with hugs and tears.  A dog was barking in the empty night.  And at the end of the street, only my mother was waiting with open arms."

At the hospital, Alberto Vargas dies.  Outside the hospital, Marta thanks Esteben for his help.  She gives Esteben Alberto's dog tags and asks him to bury them on the Malvinas when he gets there.  He takes the dog tags. 

Esteben is landing at the Falklands/Malvinas airport.  A driver takes him around the island where Esteben fought.   He sees the old familiar landscape and the sheep roaming around.  They head over to the village of Stanley.    He sees English children where once there was blood and suffering.  A signs says:  "Argentineans:  You will be welcome when you stop claiming sovereignty and accept our right to self-determination." 

Esteben examines the wreckage of an old airplan along with some other relics from the war.  He is driven by the mine fields where there are still some 25,000 active mines in the ground.  He finds his old hole and goes inside.  He remembers that he left something in a corner of the hole and retrieves it.  He opens the wrapping and looks at a picture of his family he had placed there.  He cries at the remembrance.  At the end of his trip, he goes to the burial ground for the Argentinean war dead.   He finds the graves of his comrades.  He hangs Vargas's dog tags on the cross marking the grave of Juan Chamorro (1963-1982). 

"This film is dedicated to the conscripts who fought in the Malvinas.  To the dead of the Belgrano.  To those who fought with dignity.  The Malvinas are Argentina's." 

Good movie.  To some extent it is reminiscent of the American soldiers in the Vietnam War.  Many of the Argentine troops felt a certain resignation as to a bad outcome for the Malvinas.  There leadership was poor and their supplies were sorely lacking.  In the case of Esteben, his sergeant was too overbearing and cruel, threatening to kill Esteben and his two buddies for killing and eating a sheep.  The sarge then over-punished Vargas by staking him out in extremely cold rain, thereby seriously weakening the man for combat.  As in Vietnam, a great cynicism pervaded many of the Argentinean troops.  Their military dictatorship, responsible for torturing and killing thousands of their fellow citizens, wanted to go to war to take some of the criticism off the actions of the dictators.  (After all, it was pretty stupid to pick a fight with an advanced industrial society with a long military history, backed by NATO and the United States.)  How could an intelligent person not be cynical?  Many of the troops suffered from post-traumatic syndrome and probably received very little mental health care.  No wonder there were more suicides following the war than deaths during the war for the Argentinean soldiers.  The movie does a good job showing the suffering of the troops, the frightful bombings and shellings they faced,  the fear before battle, indeed, all the classic sufferings of troops, but a suffering increased by the doubt and cynicism about the generals behind the war and its purpose. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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