Innocent Voices, directed by Luis Madoki, provides a harrowing glimpse of the civil war that gripped El Salvador in the 80s. Eleven-year-old Chava (Carlos Padilla) lives in a makeshift village with his mother Kella (Leonor Varela) and two siblings. Each night gun fire rips more holes in their cardboard walls. But soon, Chava will be 12, the age at which boys are conscripted into the brutal Government army. This is a deeply moving portrait of courage amid hopelessness, and innocence amid evil.
The film is based on the childhood experiences of its screenwriter, Oscar Torres, which explains the emotional authenticity here. Chava is an ordinary boy assaulted by his circumstances, who must walk to school amid machine gun barrels, obey an evening curfew, and hide under the bed along with his brother and sister when bullets shear through his one-room home. But when he escapes his village - and certain conscription - by joining his passionate, radical Uncle Beto (José Maria Yazpik) at a guerrilla safehold, his childhood is at a premature end.
"A MASTERFUL PORTRAIT"
So often, child protagonists are sappy, wooden, or downright annoying. It's all the more amazing, then, that Carlos Padilla brings a gravity, and maturity, to his portrayal of Chava that forms the heart of this movie. Mexican star Daniel Giménez Cacho is an inspirational village priest, and Leonor Varela shines, too; her fearsome love for her children and her frayed nerves, are visible in her every move. As the war, inevitably, mires Chava in violence, we get a masterful portrait of a society exhausted by grief, and a family determined to salvage its spirit from the wreckage.
In Spanish with English subtitles.