By Alexander Davis
from Bournemouth, England
, 12 Mar 2007
Based on the memoirs of Oscar Orlando Torres, Innocent Voices hearkens back to the 1980s and the brutal civil war that devastated El Salvador.
Carlos Padilla (through the careful directing of Luis Mandoki) is without a doubt the heart and soul of Innocent Voices. While most directors would avoid placing so young an actor into difficult situations, in particular the climactic scene where Chava faces execution and watches his two best friends get shot in the back of the head, Mandoki defies conventional wisdom and challenges Padilla, who meets and exceeds all expectations. So often, child protagonists are sappy, dry, or just downright annoying. Carlos Padilla however, brings a gravity, and maturity, to his portrayal of Chava that forms the heart of this movie. As the war, inevitably, enshrouds Chava in violence, we get a masterful portrayal of a society destroyed by grief, and a family determined to salvage its spirit from the wreckage.
Luis Mandoki has produced a film from the heart, with a passionate and well justified disregard for any commercial prospects. He carefully reproduces the realities of this kind of war; the chaos and terror of the nights, the insecurity of living in a world where anarchy rules and the pain of watching friends and family savagely and unexpectedly torn away. Perhaps Mandokis most effective tool is his ability to lull us into thinking that Chava stands some chance of a normal existence; we often see him playing with friends like any other 11 year old would. However, every time this happiness is established, guns start firing and Chava finds himself back under the bed with his family as they try to shield themselves from the stray bullets that batter their tiny makeshift house.
One argument being set against Innocent Voices is that it carries a 'leftist bias in that there is a tendency to demonize the army. While this is accurate, it's important to realise that the story represents Chava's point-of-view, and the boy's sympathies lie with the guerrillas. Not only because his uncle is in their ranks but because he personally is a victim of government policy and the actions of the army. Innocent Voices is not an essay on the civil war; its a first hand recollection of a young boys experience of the war. Individual memoirs rarely give a 'balanced' view, that is not their goal, and it's no different here.
But despite allegations of leftism and claims made by high ranking American soldiers that Innocent Voices is not an accurate depiction of the civil war, the final and undisputable result is an emotional and heart warming story of human survival in the most brutal of circumstances.
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