Political Film Society - Newsletter #237 -November 1, 2005

November 1, 2005


Innocent VoicesTitles at the beginning of Innocent Voices (Voces inocentes), directed by Luis Mandoki, inform filmviewers of the civil war in El Salvador from 1980-1992 that began when peasants under the banner of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front organized opposition to the dispossession of their lands. Titles at the end note that the U.S. government poured $1 billion into training government soldiers to defeat the rebels, a civil war that killed at least 75,000 Salvadorans and chased 1,000,000 into exile. The story begins in Cuscatazingo, a small town with makeshift homes that occupies a strategic location between government and rebel forces (filming is actually in a town outside Veracruz). Chava (played by Carlos Padilla) watches as his father walks away from home one day en route to a new life in the United States. At the age of eleven, Chava is the oldest of three children, and his father has designated him as the "man of the house." The mother Kella (played by Leonor Varela) works in a garment industry in the daytime. During the evening, the family often hears gunfire, so they hide under the dining table. As the story unfolds, we view adorable Chava. When his mother retreats to make clothes at home due to the unstable atmosphere, he tries to sell her dresses and even gets himself hired by a bus driver as the one to call out the names of the stops. Chava also attracts the amorous attention of eleven-year-old Christina María (played by Xuna Primus). However, the men of the town are largely absent, having defected to the rebels, including Kella's brother Beto (played by José María Yazpik). Tragedy strikes several times. The government regularly conscripts twelve-year-olds from school. On one such occasion, a boy trips another whose name has been called, whereupon he is called up; when he runs away, soldiers track him down and shoot him off screen. After the defiant town priest (played by Daniel Giménez Cacho) gives sanctuary to a sniper in the belfry, the army retaliates by closing down the school and, of course, killing the priest, thus alluding to the treatment of priests that radicalized Cardinal Oscar Romero, as portrayed in Romero (1989). The army then tries to draft all schoolchildren in town, though most are alerted by a rebel ahead of time, hide on rooftops, and join the rebels. Next, soldiers burn the houses in the town, some rebels are captured and executed, and Chava and three other children are ordered to a killing field by the river to be shot dead. The death march, which occupies the first frames of the film, continues until two small children are shot in the back of the neck. Rebels then open fire, and two boys, including Chava, run and hide while opposing forces exchange fire. Chava soon runs to the charred remains of his former abode, where he is reunited with his mother. The film ends not only with the titles mentioned above but also by focusing on the sad worldwide phenomenon of several hundred thousand child soldiers in some forty countries; the movie acknowledges that the rebels recruited children to fight as well. The film is based on the true story of Oscar Orlando Torres, who escaped to Los Angeles, where he wrote the story while busing tables; he ultimately returned to enable his family to join him. During the making the film, according to another title, Chava is reunited with Christina María, who had been dispersed during the civil war. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Innocent Voices as the best film exposé and best film on human rights in 2005. Readers of the Political Film Review will recall that the Producers Guild of America earlier conferred the Stanley Kramer award to Innocent Voices, a film which thus has been eagerly awaited in the United States all year. MH

Paradise NowParadise Now
, directed by Hany Abu-Assad, is a Palestinian-Dutch film that seeks to acquaint filmviewers with the everyday life at Nablus and the views of certain residents toward Israeli occupation. The facts presented are stark. Many residences have been destroyed, mostly by Israeli firepower but some even by Palestinian protesters, so the town has an unpleasantly dilapidated appearance that is clearly unsettling psychologically; at the end of the film, cinematography of the affluent orderly life in prosperous Tel Aviv provides quite a contrast. There is considerable unemployment due to a lack of capital equipment for factories as well as regulations that exclude many but not all Palestinians from seeking jobs in Israel. Because male residents are largely deprived of lucrative opportunities at breadwinning, they are unable to attract spouses and live dysfunctional lives. Politically, there are no normal political channels to petition for the redress of grievances. Aside from the wholesale grievance about the existence of Israeli's occupation of the West Bank, retail grievances include atrocities and indignities committed by Israeli soldiers to enforce the occupation. A nascent civil society favoring peaceful accommodation is overshadowed by a hierarchy that imposes decisions to commit terrorist acts downward. The principle that activates terrorist acts is revenge, namely, that someone killed by Israeli requires a counterattack by Palestinians. The plot is about two twentysomething Palestinians, Said (played by Kais Nashef) and Khaled (played by Ali Suliman), who are tapped by a schoolteacher, Jamal (played by Amer Hlebel), to set off suicide bombs in retaliation for the recent assassination of a Palestinian leader. Meanwhile, Suha (played by Lubna Azabal), an attractive daughter of the martyred Palestinian leader, is able to travel through Israel freely. After befriending Said, Suha tries to dissuade him from contributing to the endless cycle of violence, and Said in turn tries to stop Khaled from acting alone. The point of the film is to take seriously Khaled's rhetoric, which justifies his desire to achieve immediate paradise by serving as a suicide bomber rather than to continue to live without dignity. In the debate between the two men, Said clearly scores the most points, noting for example that Israel is not only the perpetrator of injustice but also has convinced the world that the acts of Palestinians make Israel a victim. But Said is a recent convert due to his association with Suha, so the match is unequal. Moreover, Said's recent pacifism appears hollow in light of the urgent political imperative to keep the pressure on Israel to stop the occupation. Just how a Palestinian can travel by automobile without detection from Nablus to Tel Aviv while carrying wires and explosives is a peculiarity in the plot that is not explained, but in the final scene Said is on a bus in Tel Aviv, looking depressed, leaving filmviewers to guess what he will do. Although the main characters seem unlikable, hampering the ability of Paradise Now to get its message across, the film presents terrorists as persons acting on the basis of coherent political grievances rather than the stereotypic notion that they are insane and out to destroy civilization. For a film that seeks to explain the etiology of a suicide bomber, Paradise Now adds to a genre that began with the Indian film The Terrorist (2000) and also includes the very recent The War Within (2005). Since the Political Film Society was established to recognize those who raise important political issues on the screen, Paradise Now has been nominated for an award as best film exposé of 2005. MH