Starring: Carlos Padilla, Leonor Varela, Xuna Primus
Director: Luis Mandoki
Running Time: 120 mins
Innocent Voices (Voces inocentes) is a Mexican film about a small rural town caught in the middle of the peak of the Salvadoran Civil War in 1986, and one eleven year-old boy who has one year of innocence left before the government army recruit him to fight in the deadly war.
This is a harrowing, brutal and powerful account of one of the most devastating civil wars of the 21st Century, its impact on the lives of innocent people, and horrific campaigns of recruitment of child soldiers. With heartfelt performances, mercilessly gritty realism and an engrossing account of a terrifying true story, this film really isn’t for the faint-hearted.
The most impressive thing about this whole film is the performances by the child actors and their power in carrying across the anti-child soldiers message. The main character, an eleven year-old boy named Chava, is shown as having to become the man of the house after his father abandons his family at the beginning of the civil war, and the way that the young actor, Carlos Padilla, portrays him in such a mature and convincing way was absolutely brilliant to watch.
The characterisation as a whole is fantastic here. Sometimes, going for overwhelming sympathy for innocent people can come off as a bit cheesy, and although that happens on one or two occasions here, the majority of this film is telling the story of some absolutely fascinating characters in a desperate situation that you support with all your will right from the start.
The screenplay is also very well-written, as it works on an emotional level with extreme power, detailing in harrowing clarity the devastating consequences of war on the lives of innocent people, but it also works on a historical level. Although there isn’t much detailing of the background of the civil war as a whole, it’s still very easy to get into the political side of this story as well as the human one even if you don’t know a lot about it, something that really raises the stakes of the whole story and makes it incredibly hard-hitting at some points.
As well as those fantastic achievements, this film shows some technical brilliance too. Apart from the brilliant directing by Luis Mandoki, there are so many other excellent achievements behind the camera, most significantly the fantastic score, which tugs at your heartstrings in an appropriate and believable way, whilst also heightening the sense of fear that the young boys feel every time we see an army troop arrive for further recruitments.
Overall, this gets an 8.5, because it’s a stunning account of a harrowing true story, and it works fantastically well as a brutal and powerful tale that will really hit you hard.