In partial fulfillment for the requirements of
Spanish 26: UNDERSTANDING LATIN AMERICA THROUGH FILM
Modern Languages Department
Los Angeles Pierce College
Spring Semester 1999
What were my feelings and emotions after seeing these films?
I felt refreshed, energized, and angered. These films display multiple facets of a complex and dangerous world. Yet for all their faults, these societies and cultures radiate tenacity and resilience. I no longer felt complacent and stiff, but instead eager to learn and participate in these grand events. Angered? Yes, at the injustice and suffering some of these people endure. Energized? Indeed, by their reaction to their treatment. They do not break and disappear, but rather, like the reed, bend under the blow to spring back up after the storm is past.
I felt guilt also at the US involvement in Nicaragua. I clearly recall my supporting the US Administration's decisions in 1986 regarding the Iran-Contra affair, even triggering an in-class debate that my small-town-raised Bible class teacher had trouble quelling. It was amazing to me that on the one hand, in first period, we had to place our hands on our hearts and recite the pledge of allegiance while staring at the stars and stripes, and in second period, openly criticize the President of the United States, calling him a criminal. Later I read the Tower Report, a voluminous tome which explained little and muddied everyone. So there was guilt, and yet I cannot think we were wrong to try.
Lastly, I felt sorry for most of these people, out of compassion and caring, for theirs is a hard life that I would not wish upon anyone.
Mention visual images or sounds from the films that immediately come to mind.
In "Romero", the bishop is jailed, and screams to the guards to stop the torture of his friend, another priest. His desperation and frailty is evident when faced with the brutal treatment of the government's forces.
In "El Super" our hero tells a story to his friend, of how he found a burglar who had gotten stuck in a window and had frozen to death during the night. It was a death, yet it was presented in an almost comical manner.
"In the houses are full of smoke", I recall the way a CIA trained operative hung his head low, in shame, as he related his training and deeds. He had fought against his own countrymen, killed some perhaps, killed some women and children too perhaps-if not him, others had-and dared not even look in the camera lens as he spoke.
Also in that film, the President of the United States-Ronald Reagan-was shown speaking to assembled journalists during a press conference. He looked the cameras square in the eye and told in no uncertain terms of the US support for the freedom fighters of Nicaragua.
In "Miss Mary", there is the music at an open-air wedding, where a prank played on Mary by a would-be translator is transformed into a moment of joy as she danced with a man, on a grassy field under the sun, among cheerful and carefree people. This ability to forget all sorrows and let oneself be free was refreshing, and although I do not recall the tune, I vividly recall the mirth it spread.
What were my personal reactions to the films?
I don't think I really liked any of them. I felt like I was watching CNN. They were hard films, made to make one think rather than to entertain. But then the definition of entertainment varies from culture to culture, so that what may seem to us Americans as a hard look on reality may in fact be the drama of other societies. I am reminded of the Greek tragedies; of Shakespearean plays that end in violence, dementia and death; of some French films I have seen that depict war, betrayal, and genocide.
The average US citizen likes to escape to the movies-as the slogan goes-to get away from reality, to dream a little, to fantasize a little.
In view of that I think my not liking the films is due to the fact that they did not for the most part fit the Hollywood mold.
The subject matter of these films, namely Latin America, is itself interesting. I love to travel and see new things, meet different people, experience exotic foods and potent drinks. Perhaps I would have enjoyed more tourist-minded films, that depict beautiful vistas, ancient museums full of artifacts from civilizations gone by, and sun-drenched beaches bordered by palm trees and a dazzling ocean.
Of course, this would leave by the wayside the daily business of living: family, business, and government. These three things are the hardest endeavors of man. These are the building blocks of civilization. The troubles that exist at the community level (racism, class differences), at the commerce level (high taxes, low education levels, inadequate infrastructure), and at the governmental level (corruption, lack of accountability, loopholes and gaps in the democratic process-or the absence thereof) all contribute to the instability and violent nature of these countries. These elements are commonly referred to as institutions. When institutions are weak, the foundation of society itself is weak, and prone to failure. When societies fail, people suffer and die.
So these films, more than anything else, show the faults of a society that cannot overcome its own problems. Civilizations have fallen for the very same reason, and should Latin America regain the strength and power of its former colonial powers, it will need to build up again these institutions that make societies stable and prosperous.
And that, no one else will do for them. Not the United States, not Europe, not Japan, not Russia. If they cannot do it, then their fate will be that of the Incas, Aztecs, Olmecs, and other such "ecs" that fell to foreign powers.
And perhaps it is already too late... The corruption of drugs and violence "Made in USA" along with Old World aristocratic ideals irreparably rend this beautiful continent into warring factions-whether using harsh words and frowns or combat helicopters and M-16s machine guns-that use every tool of terror known to enslave and dominate their fellow man.
All successful civilizations have addressed and resolved these issues. All failed civilizations neglected them, and collapsed.
What do I remember best and what meant the most.
It is the assassination of the young lady in the dump after she had been raped and her tongue cut out that I definitely will remember. Her murder exemplifies the inhumane nature of this struggle for power... Her face, staring back at the man who was to shoot her, is like the face of every woman I have ever known... Some sweet, some stern, some lost... In her instant of desperation, furiously fighting her inner fears and defiantly staring at her killer, she was and is the spirit of this ransacked land, bitterly struggling against all odds to survive.
What meant the most? I think that all I have said about the portion of this great continent that lies south of the US-Mexico border applies to the north as well. In "'El Norte", at the very end of the film, the man who had faced incredible pains to bring himself and his sister to America realized, while digging a trench in the glazing California heat, that man, whether in the pampas of Argentina, in the Brazilian rainforest, on a dirt road in El Salvador, or in the glass, steel, and concrete squarish towers of many a modern city's downtown district-that man is the same everywhere.
Indeed, it is the sameness of man, the ability for good and the predilection for evil, that lumps us all together as one huge and sarcastically-speaking happy family.
Then perhaps if we learned to live alongside one another, life might not be so bad after all
© 1999 Christopher Mahan