La Deuda Interna (Veronico Cruz) (1987)
Director: Miguel Pereira
Starring: Leopoldo Aban, Juan José Camero (The Teacher), Guillermo Delgado, Ana María González, Gonzalo Morales (Veronico Cruz), René Olaguivel, Fortunato Ramos.
poor Indian joins the Argentine navy and sees action in the Falklands War
Chorcan Northwest of Argentina. 1964 in the mountains. A pregnant woman works with her husband in the fields. He asks her what's wrong? She says she's fine but this soil is all worked out. Her husband, Castulo, says then they will have to go work in the cane fields. At night the wife experiences the pain of giving birth.
The husband buries his wife. He leaves his boy Veronico with a woman and her husband, and goes off.
Now we see Veronico as as young boy. He spills some milk and granny scolds him, calling him "stupid boy".
Veronico is taking care of the sheep and the goats. He signals with a mirror with a fellow shepherd, this one a girl.
He loses a lamb and has to go find it. He finds the lamb.
At night Veronico sneaks over to the chest and he picks up some photos and letters from his father. He sees a photo of his father.
A man with a burro in tow walks toward Verononico's house. Veronico goes into the house. The man claps his hand asking if anybody is here. He sees Veronico and asks him for some water. Granny stays hidden. Veronico brings him some water and granny tells Veronico to get back to work. The man gives Veronico a transistor radio and two comic books.
The man goes into the village proper. The Mayor sees him coming and puts his jacket on. Behind him are photos of Juan Peron and Eva Peron. The Mayor goes outside and calls for the Constable. He says the school teacher is coming. The two men walk a little way to greet the school teacher. The Mayor introduces himself as the Commissioner of Chorcan. The Commissioner takes the teacher to see the school house. Entrance into the school house is delayed because the Commissioner doesn't have the key for the lock on the school door. He sends the constable to get the key.
The place is a mess The back part of the classroom has a bed frame and some chairs. Evidently, this is where the teacher will be staying. The teacher makes no comment on the place.
The next morning the teacher rings the school bell for the children to come to school. No children come to school.
The school teacher goes around the village and introduces himself to the people. He tells one woman, Veronico's nanny, that he is not here to take her boy from her. She says it's not the maestro, but the school itself. The woman frankly tells him that she doesn't want him to learn. "What good will it do for him?" His father went to school and what did he gain him? He went off to work in the cane fields and never came back. She doesn't want that to happen to Veroncio.
An old rancher sees the forlorn look on the teacher's face and invites him for some mate (or maté) tea drink. The teacher tells the old man that he is feeling a bit lost. The old man tells him not to worry so much. The people are kind. It's just that the teacher is new to the town. As the people learn to trust the teacher, they will send their kids to school. The school teacher tells Domingo that he understands that, but he wants the people to understand him. He wants to teach the children to seek greater opportunities for themselves. Education will help them to think for themselves. Domingo says that's okay and repeats that the teacher should not worry. The kids will come.
And the teacher does get his students. Granny, however, is still keeping Veronico out of school. And she returned the transistor radio to the teacher,.
Veronico reads, or rather looks at the pictures, in his comic book while in bed. The next day out in the fields, he looks at his comic book, which is about sailors and ships. The teacher comes out to see him. He asks Veronico if he likes the comic books and Veronico starts asking him questions about the pirates and the navy. He asks what does the sea look like? The teacher says it's very big and very beautiful.
Veronico goes out to a huge salt pan and imagines that he is on the sea.
At home the teacher looks over a book with many pictures of ships in it. The little girl Veronico would signal to with his mirror comes and gets the teacher. Some animal has attacked and killed some of Veronico's sheep. The Constable says that there are pumas in the area.
When Veronico comes back with a lot of wood for the fire, granny finally decides to let him go to school.
And now the class room is filled with children. The teacher has the class sing a song together. Veronico makes a big hit with everyone, but especially his girl friend, when he blows the tune out on his flute.
At night the teacher hears some banging on his door. He opens the door and there staring at him is the face of a beheaded sheep. The teacher gets a big shock and pulls back.
The next day the teacher speaks with his friend, the old rancher, about the sheep's head. He asks his friend, why me? His friend just laughs it off.
Over the radio comes the news of communiqué number one of the military junta. The Argentine people are hereby informed that as from today, the country is under the control, of the military junta. All civilians are advised to adhere strictly to the measures and guidelines laid down by military, security and police authorities. The old man, the teacher, the Commissioner and the Constable all listen to the broadcast together. It's another coup, and there have been so many coups.
The people of the village see a government pick-up truck speeding down the dirt road. The pick-up truck looks like it's an army vehicle because it is covered in camouflage colors. Veronico watches as the truck races over the salt pan. Veronico examines the tracks made by the vehicle. He starts digging in the salt and finds a conch shell signifying that this was once an inland sea.
The tough guys arrive in the town and they tear down the Commissioner's portraits of Juan and Eva Peron. The leader tells the Commissioner: "From now on, the police officer (i.e., the Constable) is in charge here." Furthermore, the Commissioner is forbidden to indulge in any political activity. That done, the leader says he is looking for Artemio Aquirre and Castulo Cruz. The Constable says that both men left years ago.
Now the leader takes the Constable outside and, in private, tells him that he will receive his orders in five days. He also tells the Constable to straighten out his jacket and get a hair-cut. Now they army men take-off.
When Veronico returns home he finds his granny dead on the floor. He buries granny next to his mother. Then he buries the conch shell in between the two graves.
The teacher takes Veronico into the school house to live there. One day the Constable arrives and tells the teacher and Veronico that he has to look through the teacher's bookshelves for banned books -- "political" books. The teacher doesn't like it and says: "Here we go again." One of the banned books is the History of Human Stupidity by Paul Tabori.
And now the Constable says that the teacher must come with him over to Domingo's place. Over there, Domingo asks: "So now they send books to prison, do they?" It seems so. The Constable says it's forbidden to listen to any Communist radio. And now Domingo has to sign a document saying he won't listen to any Communist radio. The maestro will witness the signing. Domingo is disgusted and says, shaking his head: "What a shitty world."
There is a celebration in town complete with music and dancing. Food is prepared. The former Commissioner tells the maestro that they stripped him of all his authority. He is a bit drunk and he asks the teacher: "What do bloody soldiers know about governing?" The Constable tries to console his friend. The Commissioner starts a rant against the Constable and the teacher has to get between the two men to prevent anyone from being socked.
Veronico has a nightmare about the army fellows chasing down him and his girl friend in their pick-up truck and shooting at them. He suddenly awakens from the fright.
The teacher continues teaching Veronico, especially about the natural world around them. The teacher gets a letter from Veronico's father. He says in the letter that he knows that his son is living with the teacher now. And it pained him to learn of his mother's death. The father is homesick for his native mountains and says he has worked very hard at so many different jobs under the greatest of privations. He is now involved in the workers' struggle. He says: "I know it's dangerous, because strange things are going on. Because there are people who disappear overnight, never to return. And he doesn't want this to ever happen to Veronico. He wants the teacher to tell all this to Veronico so he won't become a bad father like himself. Tell him to stay in the hills.
The teacher consults with Domingo about what he will say to Veronico. Domingo tells him to ask Veronico about what he wants to do.
The teacher asks Veronico if he would like them to help him find his father? He adds that the photo of his father with the statue monument of Argentine hero Belgrano is found in Jujuy, the capital. Veronico says he would like to see his father. So, the teacher tells him they will go and look for his father when school is out.
And now the teacher and Veronico are at the General Belgrano Monument in a busy city. And behind the monument is Government House, where they keep the flag that Belgrano created for Argentina. And then over there is the Cathedral where the flag was first blessed.
The teacher tells Veronico to stay in the park while he goes in to Government House to inquire about Veronico's father. After the teacher goes inside the building, Veronico wanders over to the Cathedral.
The teacher is now treated as a political suspect. They take him to an interrogation room and demand to know why is the teacher looking for Cruz?
After awhile, Veronico comes out of the Cathedral and starts looking for his teacher.
The interrogator tells the teacher bluntly: "Your place is in the school, not here interceding on behalf of subversives."
Tired of waiting, Veronico goes into Government House. He sees some beautiful rooms like in a palace. He sits in a chair that looks like a throne chair.
The interrogator says that Cruz is not here. He says the teacher should inquire at the hospitals.
When Veronico comes out of Government House, he sees the teacher over by the Belgrano statue. He rushes over there to tell him that he was in the flag room and saw Belgrano's original flag design. The boy notices that the teacher is upset and he asks him if they won't be able to find his father? The teacher turns his face from Veronico. The boy leans his head against the teacher and the teacher puts his arm around him to comfort Veronico.
Veronico and the teacher return to the school. Juanita, Veronico's girl friend, comes to see Veronico. Veronico throws his arm around her, he's so happy to see her. Veronico is so excited to tell Juanita all about the big city. He saw a movie theater and a television. He says and just think that they have all that in Argentina. The teacher reminds Veronico that they also are in Argentina.
The government sends a huge boom box so the children can listen to events such as soccer matches. The children listen to a match involving Argentina, and stand up and cheer and wave their flags when Argentina scores a goal. But then Holland pulls ahead of Argentina in the game and the children become despondent. All of a sudden, the transmission of the soccer game is cut off, probably because Argentina is losing.
Domingo has a radio, so now all the children run over to his house to hear the rest of the game. Argentina scores another goal and everyone in the room jumps up to celebrate.
Juanita and Veronico are back out at the salt pan.
The teacher receives a letter transferring him to school number 45, Bernardino Rivadavia, in Humahuaca.
Maestro says goodbye to his friends in the town. He goes without Veronico, who will stay behind. As the teacher leaves, Veronico gives him a hug. Naturally, they are both upset about having to part.
Humahuaca 1982. The teacher writes a letter to Veronico. He says he's content with the past four years at the school, but he will always remember his experiences in Chorcan. He asks Veronico to write him more often.
There is a big celebration in Argentina when the military dictatorship seizes what Britain refers to as the Falkland Islands and what Argentina calls the southern islands or the Malvina Islands.
The teacher keeps looking for a letter from Veronico, but nothing arrives.
The television reports that at 17:00 hours on May 2nd, the cruiser General Belgrano was attacked and sunk by a British submarine, outside the exclusion zone set by the British under Prime Minister Thatcher. The ship's crew numbered 1,042 men.
The teacher returns to Chorcan to see Veronico, but he finds no one home at Veronico's place. So he goes to see Domingo. Domingo says his radio has been kaput for some three years now, but he did get a letter from Veronico and a photo. The photo show three friends in the Argentine navy, all three members of the ship the Belgrano. The teacher remembers back to the time when the young Veronico first asked him what is the sea like? He now steps out of Domingo's house to get some fresh air. All that work and love he put into that boy is now all gone. He looks up into the sky. Then he sees a pregnant Juanita watching over her sheep. All that love is gone.
(Written before I re-watched the film and wrote it up.) "My wife and I were very shocked by this film that we first say many years ago. If I can remember right, a man wants to make a difference in the world and what better way than to have an impact on the life of a poor Argentine Indian boy so that he can have a better life. The movie is a beautiful testament of the power of caring for others. A wonderful friendship is built between the teacher and the boy and they stay in contact over the years.
And then something happens to completely shock the viewer."
What I first saw on the first go-around and then forgot was the importance of the part of the film dealing with the terrible, murderous Argentine military dictatorship in Argentina where thousands of people were murdered or just "disappeared" never to be seen again.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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