By Sue Lavene
Innocent Voices (Voces Inocentes), filmed in Mexico and based on the childhood of screenwriter Oscar Torres, tells the true story of the civil war in El Salvador during the 1980s. What makes this film stand out from all other war dramas is that its perspective is told through the innocent eyes of an 11-year-old boy, Chava, who is just one year from being drafted into the army himself.
Made the "man of the house" by his father who left them to go to the US at the start of the war, Chava's days are filled with innocence and play, while his nights are filled with the horror of flying bullets and kidnappings. Even more frightening than the stray bullets was the fact that within a year's time he would be forced into the army.
Young Chava has no political opinions. He supports his uncle, a guerilla, and fears the government because he does not want to be made to be a soldier in the army on his twelfth birthday, like so many of his classmates.
The scariest part of this story is not only watching families take cover underneath furniture and mattresses but especially those scenes in which the army came to schools and lined up the boys to remove the twelve year olds. After school hours, in a desperate attempt to remain invisible and avoid being picked up by the army, children hid on the rooftops of their homes.
Chava's spirited resilience warmed my heart rather than leaving me overwhelmingly sad. There is comfort in knowing that Chava will eventually pull through, both physically and spiritually – as he has clearly lived to tell the tale – but his saga is nonetheless harrowing and intensely moving. Spanish subtitles.