"Loss of Innocence"
What You Need To Know:
INNOCENT VOICES is indeed a moving story with a terrific ensemble cast. Padilla is amazing as Chava, and Leonor Varela is captivating as his young devoted mother. The story suffers from its childlike simplicity, however. While mothers and children in the story were emotionally opposed to the taking and recruiting of children, INNOCENT VOICES never explicitly condemns the practice. Throughout the story, it is treated as an acceptable inevitability. There are no attempts to show the damage to the psyches of these children, or the tragic consequences thrust upon the culture and country for this practice. In the end, INNOCENT VOICES presents a weak and ineffective cry. It is also hampered by its pro-left, somewhat whitewashed portrait of the leftist guerillas.
(HH, PCPC, APAP, C, B, Ab, LL, VV, S, N, AA, D, M) Strong politically correct, left-leaning humanist worldview about children forced to fight in the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s, with subtle but repeated themes of anti-Americanism, and several women pray to God, some quote the “Hail Mary” prayer, priest urges prayer then later negates his biblical message, priest describes grace but with a secular interpretation and then adds that war does not exist within the grace of God, and a belief is repeated that prayer cannot stop a war; 10 obscenities and one strong profanity; strong violence includes vicious rifle butts-to-face beatings with much blood, shootings, explosions, bystanders being shot, execution shootings of children, children dying from shootings, man hanging from tree, dead bodies on the streets and in a creek, children terrified and crying from battle, bullets tear through homes, and village burned; no explicit sexual content but some children shown kissing, dancing and soldiers abduct teenage girls off street; upper male nudity of young boys and boys come out of creek wearing underwear; some drinking and drunkenness; smoking; and, miscellaneous immorality includes lying and disrespectful behavior, jokes about flatulence, child runs away from home out of anger, children forced into “recruitment” as soldiers, soldiers abduct teenage girls off street, mother spanks disobedient boy; boy gets sick accidentally drinking gasoline, and farmer shown smuggling people to safety.
Based on a true story, INNOCENT VOICES is a moving and tragic account of a young boy growing up in war-torn El Salvador. Eleven-year-old Chava (Carlos Padilla) understands that, by age 12, he will be recruited to fight for the military or the local guerrilla opposition. Either way, he may get himself killed or be put in a position to shoot friends or family members fighting for the other side.
Chava’s story is based on the life experiences of Oscar Orlando Torres growing up in El Salvador in the 1980s. Perhaps his recollection has faltered over the years, or perhaps Oscar Torres bowed to a certain amount of political correctness in re-telling his story. The audience is certainly left wondering. INNOCENT VOICES presents the jungle-based guerrillas as good and honorable fighters, doomed underdogs in a fight to the death. The military and their U.S. advisor-soldiers, on the other hand, are shown as lawless and despicable men. However, the movie eventually concedes that both sides used children as soldiers to fight in this civil war.
As Chava nears his 12th birthday, he ponders the day his father abandoned their family to work in the United States. (Subtly, this infers the U.S. bears responsibility as an accomplice in the breakup of his young family.) Even though Chava embraces his new designation as “the man of the house,” he clearly just wants to be a child, play with his friends and pursue young romantic interests. As the oldest son, however, Chava must find ways to look after his sad mother (Leonor Varela) and protect his brother and sister from the deadly gun battles that occur in his desperately poor village.
Chava is shorter than most boys his age, so he narrowly avoids the forced recruitment of school children into the military. He watches in terror as a good friend is marched off to fight for the government. Another selected boy runs away from the schoolyard line-up, and it could be implied that he is shot or killed as an example to the rest.
Soon, Chava befriends a new girl at school and it seems as if his happiness will last forever, but his Uncle Beto (Jose Maria Yazpik), a rebel fighter and strong father-figure, tries to convince Chava’s mother that the boy will be much safer with the guerrillas. The decision is made that his uncle will one day return and take Chava away. So, for now, the young boy is left to salvage the remaining happy days of his childhood.
The village priest, another friend of Chava’s, is shown acting heroically, but his character is seen continuously smoking (while few other characters are shown this way). Further, his final sermon urges the people to take action against the government, adding,“it is not enough to pray.”
After witnessing the deaths of men, women and children, Chava can no longer hide from the military’s forced recruitments. He flees with a few remaining friends to the guerrillas’ camp, only to be captured by the military and face execution for his choices.
INNOCENT VOICES is indeed a moving story with a terrific ensemble cast. Padilla is amazing as Chava, and Varela is captivating as his young devoted mother, but, the story suffers from its childlike simplicity. Perhaps Director Luis Mandoki is presenting a story intentionally skewed as through a child’s perspective. As a result, INNOCENT VOICES fails to confront the true evil which was taking place – adults manipulating children to be soldiers and killers.
Instead, scene after scene shows the military in a negative light firing on rebels shooting from a packed school, shooting an innocent bystander during a village battle, soldiers stealing teenage girls off the street (presumably to be raped), and officers brutally beating up a local priest. The guerrillas, on the other hand, are romanticized with pleasant anti-government folk songs, shown risking their own safety to look after others, and portrayed as heroes rescuing Chava.
Oddly enough, Chava’s mother makes a large sacrifice to send her son away to grow up in the United States. It is clearly understood he will be safer there than staying where he will be forced to fight. Presumably, as this is Oscar Torres’ true-life story, he is educated in the U.S. and has the freedom to write his anti-American sentiments. Years later, perhaps showing his ingratitude, his story becomes this movie.
INNOCENT VOICES closes with the reminder that there are 300,000 child soldiers in 40 countries today. While mothers and children in the story were emotionally opposed to the taking and recruiting of children, the movie never explicitly condemns the practice. Throughout the story, it is treated as an acceptable inevitability. There are no attempts to show the damage to the psyches of these children, or the tragic consequences thrust upon the culture and country for this practice.
In the end, INNOCENT VOICES presents a weak and ineffective cry. It is also hampered by its pro-left, anti-American perspective, which downplays the real reported brutality of the leftist guerrillas in El Salvador at the time.