Voces inocentes (Innocent Voices) (2004)





Director:  Luis Mandoki.

Starring:  Carlos Padilla (Chava), Leonor Varela (Kella, mother), Xuna Primus (Cristina Maria), Gustavo MuZoz (Ancha), Jos Mara Yazpik (Uncle Beto), Ofelia Medina (Mama Toya), Daniel Gimnez Cacho (Priest).

innocent people caught in the El Salvador civil war in the 1980s


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

In 1980 El Salvador began a civil war that went on for twelve years.  What began as an agrarian conflict, became a brutal confrontation between the Salvadoran army and the peasants, organized in the guerilla movement FMLN.  Cuscatanzingo was one of the last villages trapped between the guerillas and the army.  Here is the story. 

Chava and two of his buddies are marching along a jungle trail escorted by Salvadoran soldiers.  Marching in front, Chava believes that the soldiers will shoot them to death. 

Flashback.  One day Chava's father left the family and went to the United States during the Salvadoran civil war.  Now Chava is the man of the house.

Chava and his buddies are busy playing when they see some soldiers.  His mother fears that he will be killed one day by the soldiers.  Twelve year old boys are being hauled off in an army truck to join the army.  The boys nearing twelve years of age fear their twelfth birthday because they fear being grabbed by the army.  Chava has only one year left before he is twelve. 

One of Chava's friends is Ancha who although an adult in age, is a bit slow and a child in his mind.  Chava notes that the Gringos came to El Salvador like in the movies. The United States Army has sent in its soldiers to train the army of El Salvador.  He adds:  "They said they were there to help us."  

Chava chews a piece of gum he got from an American soldier.  A woman vendor tells him to spit it out.  Why?  "Because they are teaching our soldiers to kill us."  At night there are more explosions and more automatic weapons fire.  A villager is killed. 

Chava gets a job working on a bus calling out the stops.  At school the soldiers arrive to grab the twelve-year old boys.  But this time they even grab some boys as young as ten years of age.  This creates more anxiety in Chava. 

Chava likes a girl named Cristina Maria.  At night they play with other kids and Ancha with hot-air mini balloons (powered by the fire of candlelight) that they call paper fireflies.

Soldiers fire at the children.  Chava's mother is very worried and gives Chava a spanking when he returns home for not being more careful.  Uncle Beto comes for a visit.  More fighting breaks out in the neighborhood.  There is a funeral for school chum Angelita, killed by rifle fire.    Uncle Beto tells his sister that the guerillas are planning an offensive to disrupt the army so she should move to Morazan or San Vincente, which are liberated areas.  Uncle Beto the guerilla returns to the guerilla camp, but before he leaves he gives Chava a radio so he can listen to the guerilla station Radio Venceremos.  

Chava is on the roof with his girlfriend.  He is listening to a banned song on the guerilla station.  Soldiers grab two young girls.  The priest tries to stop them, but gets hit with a rifle butt in the stomach area.  Chava gets sick from the gasoline while trying to siphon gas for the bus.  His mother makes him quit his job.

A big firefight breaks out.  Soldiers grab the priest and hit him in the face with a rifle butt and then kick him saying:  "You let them into the bell tower.  And the sniper killed three of my soldiers."  With his left arm in a sling, the priest cancels mass.  He speaks to his parishioners gathered in front of the church. A US army officer listens in the background.  The priest tells his people that they must resist war and inhumanity. 

The school is closed "forever".  Mother decides to head to the other side of the river where it will be safer for everyone.  They go live with grandmother.  Ancha accompanies them.  They love eating mangos right from the tree.  Mom gives back Chava's radio.  While playing down by the river, Chava and his friend are confronted with their friend Antonio in a soldier's uniform and carrying a US M-16 rifle.  He tells them that he learned soldiering from a Gringo who had been in Vietnam.  He calls his friends "chicken shits" and defends himself from the angry Marcos by firing into the air. 

A guerilla warns Chava that the army will be coming tomorrow.  Chava in turn tells the villagers and the next day the boys hide on the roofs of the houses.  When the army arrives they are very upset not to find the boys and they rough-up some of the mothers.  But another day the soldiers come again and do catch some of the boys.  Chava escapes again.   Chava runs over to see Cristina Maria only to find her house completely burned out.  In the remnants he finds a piece of her dress.  Soldiers grab the upset Chava, but Ancha throws rocks at them so that they release Chava and chase him.  By the river Chava throws his radio away. 

Two boys come get Chava at night and they head to the guerilla encampment.  They make contact with the guerillas and are delivered to the camp where they are given beds.  But during the night the soldiers attack the camp, killing many of the guerillas.  The soldiers grab the three buddies and march them along a jungle trail.

Back to the present.  Chava fears death is coming as the soldiers march the three boys down to the river where there are lots of bodies of guerillas previously executed by the soldiers.  The three boys are forced to kneel down with their hands behind their heads.  The first boy is shot in the head and then the second.  Just as it is Chava's turn, guerilla soldiers shoot the executor.  Other soldiers are killed as a fire fight breaks out.  Chava runs away but just runs into more soldiers.  When a guerilla fighter dies in front of him, Chava grabs his AK-47 rifle and points it at a soldier near him.  Then Chava discovers the soldier is his friend Antonio.  Instead of firing, he drops the rifle and takes off running. 

Chava returns to his grandmother's house and finds it burned out along with the burning neighborhood houses.   He thinks his family has been killed in the fire.  He wanders around.  His mother is looking for him and she returns to grandmother's house.  She thinks that Chava is dead and she knells down and cries for his loss.  Chava returns to the house and finds his mom.  They reunite happily. 

Chava is placed on the back of a pick-up truck with other natives heading for the United States. He has a tearful good-bye with his mother and leaves.

On the rooftop of a house, Chava runs around.  He says "This story could have been told by Fito or Chele or Cristina Maria.  But it was left up to me.  This is for them."

Chava escaped to the United States.  Six years later he was reunited with his family. 

The civil war in El Salvador went on for 12 years and cost 750,000 lives.  There were one million exiles.  The United States gave one billion dollars in military aide to El Salvador to fuel the war.

Good movie.  We see the destruction and death brought on in one village during the twelve-year El Salvador civil war through the eyes of an eleven year old boy named Chava.  The fighting takes place right in the village and the children of his family and the adults often have to take cover under a bed to escape death.  No one seems to care much if civilians get killed in the cross-fire: not the government, not the guerillas and not the United States.  And, of course, the United State intervenes to cause more deaths in order to support the forces of inequality in the country. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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