Friday, August 25, 2006

INNOCENT /VOCES INOCENTES - heavy-handed civil war flick

INNOCENT VOICES is one of those over-wrought political movies where no opportunity to tug at the heart-strings is left unexploited. The opening sequence of the movie shows young boys being marched, presumably to their death, by soldiers with guns. And then we flip back in time to hear the tale of cute eleven-year old Chava. He is a poor boy living in a village that happens to fall between territory occupied by the Communist rebels and the American-backed Salvadorean government. As a result, every night his tin shack is subject to gun-fire and every day he lives in fear of being forcefully recruited as a soldier for the Government. His father has abandoned the family for the US and his uncle has joined the guerillas. As a result, young Chava is the "man of the house", taking care of his two younger siblings and supporting his mother financially.

To be sure, this is a terrible and moving story and while it may be based on authentic memoirs, the suffering seems to be rather too perfect. Chava's mother is the picture of self-less beauty - and while it is a relief to see a Catholic priest portrayed as something other than a paedophile - he seems to be little more than a two-dimensional mouthpiece for the director's earnest political views.

Overall, it is hard not to be drawn into the story. There is a lot of action, a lot of high-pitched emotion, and the acting and photography are excellent. And, as this is a period of history of which I know next to nothing, I found the story genuinely interesting. (Judging by the internet chatter, viewers are divided as to whether the depiction of each side in the civil war and the US' involvement is 100% accurate.) Any movie that makes you want to read up on a subject has to be good, I suppose, but I wish INNOCENT VOICES had shown some of the restraint found in STRAY DOGS.

INNOCENT VOICES played Toronto back in 2004. It went on limited release in the US in October 2005 and is currently on release in the UK. It opens in Finland on September 8th.

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