Release Date: October 14th, 2005 (NYC-Landmark Sunshine Cinemas and AMC Empire 25)
The Cast: Carlos Padilla, Leonor Varela, Xuna Primus, Gustavo Muñez, José María Yazpik, Ofelia Medina, Daniel Giménez Cacho.
Directed by Luis Mandoki.
In Spanish with subtitles.
BASIC PREMISE: During the 1980’s civil war in El Salvador against communist guerillas, Chava (Padilla), an 11 year-old boy, is the new man of the house after his father abandons him and his family.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Although this is technically a war film, there is much more drama than action and violence. Carlos Padilla gives a surprisingly great performance as the young Chava—he carries the film very convincingly! When his father runs away before the war breaks out, he and his family are clearly left devastated. However, the rest of the film shows how Chava tries his best to save himself and his remaining family as the war rages on. Leonor Varela also gives a decent performance as Chava’s mother as she tries her best to protect her family. It is frightening that when Chava turns 12, he will be recruited to fight the communist guerillas. It is also scary that every day there is violence all around them and they don’t know if they will be the next victims of collateral damage. The cinematography, along with the use of grim colors such as browns and gray, helps to enhance the realism of each scene. There’s a subplot about Chava’s interest in a girl in school, but the main focus of the film is the basic everyday survival during these violent times. This film is much more engaging than other war films because it is very character-driven. Each character feels real and well-developed enough that one is thoroughly invested in their lives. The third act is full of tension and suspense, but mostly because you actually end up truly caring about Chava and his family.
SPIRITUAL VALUE: It is quite moving and inspiring to watch Chava as he takes control of his life to save his family: he even finds a job on a bus to support his family financially. The truth is that life is precious no matter at what age you are, but it is still wrong on so many levels for somebody such as Chava to be fighting in a war at such a young age. The fact that the U.S. joined and supported this army of children is ultimately very difficult to accept.
INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: None.
NUMBER OF TIMES I CHECKED MY WATCH: 0
THE BOTTOM LINE: A very moving, well-shot film that is rich in character development, maintaining a sense of realism that is rarely found in other war films.
RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (1st)
The "I" Menu