El Silencio de Neto (1994)
Director: Luis Argueta.
Starring: Óscar Javier Almengor (Neto Yepes), Pablo Arenales (Rodrigo), Hector Argueta (Deudo dos), Cristina Arqueta (Nina cinco), Edgar Barillas (Guarda espaldas), Willy Bihr (Senor Fuller), Mildred Chávez (Rosa), Indira Chinchilla (Nidia), Miriam S. De Sosa (Directora del colegio), Julio Diaz (Eduardo Yepes), Otto Fernández (Nuevo Maestro), Rudy García Ochoa (Nuevo Juez militar), Elvira Gaytán (Nina uno), Guillermo Gaytán (Padre de Ani), Flavio Gozalez (Vendedor de periodicos), Eduardo-Jose Guerrero (German), Frida Henry (Abuela Mercedes), Ingrid Hernandez (Ani), Rolando Herrera (Agente Chay), Gabriela Huertas (Nina dos), Sonia Juarez (Maestra de Ballet), Luis López (Deudo tres), Luis Mendizábal (Deudo uno), Ricardo Mendizábal (Arzebispo), Herbert Meneses (Ernesto Yepes), Gabriel Navasi (Hombre en Julgado), Patricia Orantes (Tia Cristy), Eduardo Ortiz (Soldado en casa de ani), Sergio Paz (Alberto), Diego Peralta (Mario), Rosemary Ponce (Nina cuatro), Zoila Portillo (Matilde), Xiomara Ramirez (Nina tres), Benjamim Rivas Baratto (Secretaria del Juez Yepez), Ana Solares (Deudo cuatro), Germán Talavera (Deudo cinco), Eva Tamargo (Elena Yepes), Ana Luisa Yapur (Maestra Emilia).
a young boy grows up against the background of the US-backed takeover of the Guatemalan Government in 1954
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Guatemala, October 19, 1954.
Young boy Neto Yepes wants to build a miniature hot air balloon that he can launch it into the air, powered by a burning candle providing the hot air. He learns from his pretty mother, who he adores, that his Uncle Ernesto (on his father's side) has died. The family of three pile into their car. They are stopped at a check point. The guard there knows Mr. Eduardo Yepes, and gives him a free pass to get through any and all check points with no problems. The family attends the wake.
Neto, who has asthma, is breathing hard. He is at the church for the funeral. He asks the Virgin Mary for a pardon. His deceased uncle appears beside him. He teases Neto by saying that the youth had his mind on Nidia, their pretty maid. Neto tells his uncle that he had thought that Uncle had no faults.
Flashback. Six months earlier. Neto and his younger brother Mario come home from school. Neto listens to a radio program. A special bulletin comes on the radio: the President of the Republic, Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, speaks. As of today the United States of America has put up a naval blockade to prevent the entry of arms. Neto speaks on the phone with a friend while the bulletin is on.
Don Eduardo comes home. He tells his wife: "Things are turning ugly. Tell Rodrigo to keep out of politics. This could cause trouble for us." Rodrigo is the brother of Neto's mother.
Neto has made himself a survival kit and keeps it in an old box. Rodrigo kisses Nidia from behind when she is ironing. Neto watches them. Neto exercises to build up his stamina by running around a water fountain in the yard. With his two friends, German and Alberto, he plays the characters Villalobos, who swear to avenge their brother's death. They bring Rodrigo blindfolded into their club. He has a nudie magazine and will sell it to the boys for 25 pesos. The boys are eager to see the pictures.
The three friends watch the girls at ballet practice. Neto likes Ani. Later Neto goes to his father's place of work. At home Uncle Ernesto flirts with Neto's mother. Another announcement comes on the radio: Attention Guatemalan National Army. We must fight communism." Neto grabs a compass from a desk in his father's office.
Back home, Uncle Ernesto (who brought pastries for the family) talks about the accomplishments of the Mayas. Dad arrives and says to his brother: "So you're back unannounced as usual." He asks his wife: "Did you enjoy the pastries?", but gets no answer. Dad says that Uncle Ernesto is a bad influence on the children. Uncle leaves again for Europe. Uncle brought Neto a hot air balloon. Neto goes out to launch his balloon. But his father stops him from completing the launch. Ernesto then wakes up. The balloon incident was just a dream. From Italy, Uncle Ernesto sends postcards to Neto.
At a birthday party given at home for Neto, he dances with his mother. Uncle Ernesto returns. Some Indian women look in on the party as they pass by with their young children. Uncle has brought another hot air balloon. They light the balloon and away it sails. Back at school, the girl students tease Neto for only inviting one girl, Ani, to his birthday party. During class, Neto reads out loud a quote from President Juan Jose Arevalo, 1946-1951.
A load of papers descend from an airplane on the school yard. The notices say: "For God, Country and Liberty. Fight Communism." Rodrigo is at a demonstration against the actions of the United States. They carry signs saying "Yankee go Home!" Later at home, Neto sees Rodrigo saying good-bye to an upset Nidia. A jealous Neto says to himself: "I hope you die in the war, Rodrigo, and never come back." After Rodrigo leaves, the upset Neto calls Nidia a whore and tells her he is going to tell Dad about her relationship with Rodrigo. He then calls her a "dirty Indian". Nidia responds: "Neto, everyone in this country is an Indian." Neto shouts: "Not me!"
Neto writes Ani a lover letter. The next day he gives the sealed letter to Ani. He tells her he is going on an important journey: "I'll tell you when I get back." He and his two friends are planning a camping trip complete with fake permission slips.
Announcement on the radio: "TGW, the Voice of Guatemala." IThe message is sent out via the Emergency Broadcast System. The bulletin mentions two private aircraft having violated Guatemala's air space. Uncle Ernesto arrives from Morocco. Neto's grandmother says: "The Lord will send the Americans to drive out the Communists." Uncle says that grandmother thinks that anyone different from her is a Communist. Dad tells his brother to respect their mother. Uncle replies: "Tell Ambassador Peurifox to show us some respect." He then tells Neto that the recent fliers they have seen are just so much American propaganda: "And to think, all of this just to steal a few bananas." Uncle then tells everyone that they cannot stay in their house. The National Guard will be bombed and they're too close. He tells them to come to his house in Antigua. They agree. Uncle scolds his brother: Don't call this a war and scare the children. Neto calls Alberto to tell him that the camping trip is postponed for a while.
Over the loudspeaker comes the notice: "The just decision to expropriate uncultivated land for distribution among landless peasants has made local reactionaries and rich foreigners desperate and intensified a long-standing conspiracy, national and international, powerful and anti democratic, whose intentions are to damage the democracy of Guatemala to block its program of reform which, as everybody knows, seeks to develop the economy of our country." This is met with anti-Communist propaganda over the radio. The sound of airplanes and gunfire can be heard. In Antigua the boys and Uncle Ernesto play tag. Liberation Radio of Guatemala, the underground station, blocks government programming, replacing it with anti-Communist propaganda. Uncle comments: "At least we will have the satisfaction of being the first to say no to the Yanks." At night the family puts on a puppet show for everyone. The next day Uncle and Mother sit outside by the plaza. They touch fingers.
June 27, 1954. On the radio comes the statement: "Two weeks ago a cruel war was unleashed and no government seems to be responsible." But they know who is the enemy. The business monopolies (especially the United Fruit Company) and the United States government. They have used the pretext of Communism to invade. Arbenz resigns and puts the government in the hands of Col. Carlos Enrique Diaz, head of the armed forces. Grandmother is happy that Arbenz has resigned, but Uncle is disgusted. The work of ten years is gone.
The next morning Uncle tells Neto that he is ashamed to stay in Guatemala, "here, among the cowards and traitors." Neto mentions that Dad and Uncle always fight when they get together. The young boy asks if his Uncle can't just be quiet. But Uncle tells Neto that everyone with something important to say should speak out.
Neto is back at school. Arbenz has resigned. Dad goes to work but finds a military man at his desk. At school there is a new teacher. He starts teaching the students English and the capitals of the states of the United States. Neto runs out of the room. He runs to Ani's house. There is no answer to the ringing of the bell. Neto pushes the gate open. A soldier grabs him; tells him that there is no one there; and pushes him back onto the sidewalk.
The maids are out looking for Rodrigo, who has been missing for three days. Nidia is very sad about the missing Rodrigo. Out playing Neto finds an automatic weapon. He pulls the trigger almost killing one of his friends. The boys then see a dead person's hand and run away. At home, Neto hears his father saying to Mario that Neto is irresponsible. Dad gives the house's expense money to Mario.
The friends play hooky at the pool hall. At home Mario won't give mom all the money she needs for expenses. She even hits Mario in an attempt to get more money, but Mario still refuses. Neto argues and fights with his brother over the mother. When Dad comes home, Mom complains that his monetary plan is disrespectful to her. Dad says that Mario, at least, knows how to handle money. Mom says she is fed up; all he cares about is his whiskey; and she can't take it any more.
The boys carry out their camping trip. They take a bus up into the mountains. They climb to the top of the mountain where they camp. At home news arrives that Uncle is recovering from cardiac arrest. He will be coming home the next day. With the camping done, Neto and his two friends descend the mountain. Back in town, they find Neto's father waiting for them. He tells Neto: "You're going bad, Neto. Now you are a forger."
Uncle is at home. He tells his brother he has come to die in his own bed. Neto comes in to talk with Uncle. Uncle gives Neto a present: the material with which to build his own hot air balloon. While getting the material, Neto sees a picture of his uncle together with his mom. It is signed by his mother: "To Ernesto with all my love."
Uncle dies. During the funeral, Neto, Nidia and Neto's friends go outside to fly the balloon. Uncle is there in spirit helping Neto light the fire to power the hot air balloon.
A pregnant Nidia goes back to her village to give birth to her child. Neto tells her to be sure she lets her child say what he/she wants to say. The last thing Neto says is that the most important lesson he learned from his Uncle was to keep a promise.
Good movie. What is really nice about it is that it directly deals with the issue of American imperialism in Guatemala and denounces it strenuously. In most of the movies dealing with Latin and South America, the imperialism is only touched indirectly. But this one takes the issue head on and that is very refreshing. Most Americans don't seem to care about this issue. They blame Communists for starting trouble and justify any intervention by their country on the basis of fighting Communism. (Today it would be to fight "terrorism".) The movie is primarily a coming of age movie, but I love that it is set against the background of the Americans moving against the government of Guatemala.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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