This film examines a year in the life of 11 year old Juan, who recently returned to Argentina from Cuba under the alias of Ernesto with his parents, both political criminals and supporters of Juan Peron. As Juan moves through the motions of a preteen on the cusp of puberty, his parents are preparing for war. Bunkered in a safe house with his mother, father, uncle, and baby sister, he lives two lives: one of a patriotic school boy navigating his first love, and one of fervent rebellion, taking place as he watches his family collaborate with others in order to bring justice and freedom back to their people.
Juan/Ernesto lives with a strange combination of love and hatred. His strong relationships with family members and a budding romance with his classmate Maria are the central point of the plot, but subtle dialogue from other sources and eavesdropped information from his parents show the anger and malice of those living outside of his family’s’ stronghold. Using a combination of graphic art, dream sequences, and half heard conversations, this film portrays an unsettling mix of violence and love through a child’s eyes.
This film has many unique and beautiful aspects, from its lighting, to its music, to intermittent animation. The strange mix of joy and fear found within Juan’s household are shown through shifting light, which becomes an essential part of the movies theme. The repeated image of opening and closing curtains to illuminate or darken the home portrays one of the key ideas in the movie: that life goes on, through death and discipline and danger. The music is soft and whimsical, matching the introspective and curious Juan. The film also makes use of children’s music, once again showing an inappropriate and unsettling clash between the fantasy of youth and the reality of death. Songs which Juan heard and sang with friends are repeated during moments of great sorrow and maturity.
One of the more unique portions of the film is its use of animation. In moments are extreme violence and angst, the type of moments when a child might squeeze their eyes shut or feel bone cracking terror, the camera switches off and is replaced by hand drawn, black and white images which grow increasingly realistic throughout the sequences. These times are surreal, showing flashes so quick that the viewer is not even sure of what they saw, intermingling images of familial and romantic love with explosions and gunfire and childhood memories. The only true colors seen at these times are red, showing blood in stark contrast to everything else. The animation leaves the viewer feeling as a child might after a traumatic incident, full of disconcerting emotion rather than concrete knowledge of what happened, and who may have lived or died. Another important aspect of the movie were its dream sequences, which once again walked the line between childhood fantasy and the true horrors that stalked Juan’s family.
I very much like this film. I thought that it was really well done, and it brought me to tears several times, a rare occurrence at the cinema. The movie was at once refreshing and deadening, and it filled me with pride and frustration. The actions of the adults in Juan life made me feel inspired by human life and liberty, but some of their careless deeds made me want to stand up and yell at the movie screen. The many beautiful examples of true love in the movie reinspired me of the validity of the human experience, while other portions of the film caused me to question the world in which we live once again. I am always one to appreciate familial love, and in this way the movie was incredibly strong, and provided a realistic glance at the importance of family in Latin American and for humanity in general. I also was interested in the cultural similarities and differences. Since both Argentina and the United States were bred in the influence of Europe, I should not have been surprised by the similarities in culture, but indeed I was. At the same time, knowing very little about Argentina or about this particular political problem, I felt somewhat enlightened after the movie, and it created a thirst to know more about the experiences faced by these people in this time, particularly by the director of the film on whose life it is partially based.
This movie, like many other sources of media, once again reinforced the idea in my mind that our world is the strangest mix of sadness and joy, and made me angry with myself for not taking the time to know about the hardships and evils that people throughout the world have faced over the years. I sadly had almost no knowledge of this event, and reading about it versus watching a movie entirely stitched together by the feelings of a man who lived through it was a completely different experience which altered my viewpoint and made it more real.
I would highly recommend this movie to an American audience. As stated above, I think it is of the utmost importance that the man who has been gifted an easy life at least attempts to intentionally understand and know the plight of the world around him. I feel that this is a very middle class american thing to say, but I also think it’s true so that one can not only acknowledge their own privilege and be thankful, but so they can support and help others in anyway possible.
Besides that point, I found the movie interesting in topic and in style. It was easy to follow, and a somewhat simplistic plotline was more than made up for by the complex and difficult themes beneath it. The acting was excellent, the music was beautiful, and the shots were well thought out. That being said, if you are looking for a feel good film, I would recommend only watching the first half (minus the first ten minutes).
History of Latin America