Five films to understand El Salvador – Sylvia Colombo

In recent days, political tension has returned to reality in El Salvador, when the majority government ousted Supreme Court justices, in a move that marks President Nayib Bukele’s rise to authoritarianism. Hearings related to the El Mozote massacre trial, which took place during the Civil War (1980-1992), are also taking place in parallel. The conflicts of this period continue to be an open wound in the country and mark contemporary politics.

Here is a list of movie recommendations that will help you understand El Salvador, in chronological order.

Romero (1989)

With Raul Julia in the lead role, the film tells the story of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero, assassinated in the midst of a mass celebration for having criticized the repression during the civil war. Romero, recently canonized by Pope Francis, denounced the abuses committed by the armed forces and organized demonstrations against violence. Led by Canadian John Duigan, he was assisted by award-winning Mexican Alfonso Cuarón.

Salvador (1986)

Directed by Oliver Stone, the film was co-produced by Mexico and the United States. It tells the story of an alcoholic journalist sent to cover the civil war in El Salvador. There, he falls in love with a Salvadoran woman and tries to save her, while experiencing several key episodes of this conflict. Like the director’s other films, “Salvador” takes a critical look at the involvement of the United States and its interference in the conflicts in Central America in the context of the Cold War. The film was nominated for an Oscar in the categories of Best Actor (James Woods, the protagonist) and Best Screenplay (Stone).

Voces Innocents (2004)

The film is set in the 1980s. A man flees El Salvador at the start of the civil war and leaves behind his wife and three children. The latter must fight to ensure a livelihood for her family and fears that her eldest son, Chava, will be recruited into the army. The plot deals with a theme common in Latin America during the guerrilla era, which is that of children who become soldiers and the world of ideals that causes them internal conflicts. Also the fear of fleeing families to prevent their children from having to go to war while they are still young.

Unforgivable (2020)

This award-winning short from the last Toronto festival is based on a journalistic investigation by Carlos Martínez (of the newspaper El Faro) and is directed by Spanish filmmaker Marlén Viñayo. It tells the story of a former member of a “mara” (criminal faction) who lives in prison a personal conflict for being homosexual. He was filmed in the prison of San Francisco Gotera, a prison 160 km from the country’s capital, San Salvador, where members of “maras” are imprisoned. Besides the daily life of prison and love, the film also deals with the presence of evangelical churches and the survival codes of prisoners.

“The Last Thing He Wanted” (2020)

Based on a book by Joan Didion, the film premiered at Sundance and is available on Netflix. It also tells the story of a journalist who lives in the United States and covers the American elections of 1984, but who must return to El Salvador to take care of her father, an arms dealer who is on the verge of death. Once in the country, she ends up being involved in the plots her father was in. In the cast, Anne Hattaway, Willem Dafoe and Ben Affleck.

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