Susan Meiselas, a photographer whose haunting pictures from Nicaragua during the struggle against Somoza's dictatorship received wide publication, returns to that beleaguered Central American country to retrace her steps and to interview some of the people she photographed ten years ago.
As she drives through the sun-drenched dusty villages of rural Nicaragua, Meiselas contrasts this intersection or that building site with a more dramatic moment when it served as the background to Sandinista battles with Somoza's National Guard. (Anastasio Somoza Garcia, head of the Nicaraguan
National Guard, had Augusto Cesar Sandino--an insurgent fighting the continued presence of US occupation forces in Nicaragua--assassinated in 1934 and took over the presidency in 1937. Somoza and his sons Luis and Anastasio Somoza Debayle controlled the country until 1979.) Several veterans of
those battles talk to Meiselas of their great hopes and current sadness, of living in an exhausted country with very little hope for a better life. One man talks of all the foreign economic pressures as an obstacle to the better living conditions he had fought for, while several women simply see
the "time of the triumph" over Somoza as a flitting particle of hope in lives of grinding poverty.
One local hero of that time, however, asserts that the revolution had one overwhelming achievement--that they no longer have to fear the National Guard whose atrocities provoked the Sandinista revolution and whose victims were often literally dumped into the "valley of death" Meiselas had
documented, replete with limp, tortured torsos. Now there's a small stone crucifix as a memorial to those nameless martyrs. Meiselas also photographed the National Guard troops, sometimes as the broken casualties of a street fight with the guerrillas, or as their marshaled prisoners. She
interviews two former members of the National Guard, one who continued fighting as part of the Contras and lost his right hand. (Between 1981 and 1990 the US actively, if covertly, supported Contra rebels fighting the Sandinista regime.) Both recall their dead comrades and the maimed former
lieutenant regrets having been simply a pawn of US interests as he assumes the Sandinistas must regret having played their small part in Soviet world politics.
Intellectually, the weakest part of Meiselas's film is the timidity with which she approaches the question of whether the Sandinista leadership betrayed their revolution, or made serious mistakes, or were simply unable to cope with external pressures and internal stresses. The surviving brother of
three who supported the Ortega regime claims he had to leave for Canada, where he now works in an auto plant, but is not specific about details. The two officials interviewed are equally hazy about the successes of their revolution, talking instead about the imagery of Central America in foreign
eyes. That discussion leads Meiselas to discover that many of the revolutionary wall murals have been painted over since Chamorro's electoral victory over Ortega. One of these popular images, an armed guerrilla preparing to hurl a Molotov cocktail, was drawn from one of Meiselas's photographs, and
she muses on the transformation of her real picture into a less distinct and simpler image and symbol. Honestly, she does note how the revolution in Nicaragua was for her "the luxury of a dream" while for thousands of others it had a harder, concrete form.
The minor French novelist, Jules Valles, referred to the legacy of the Paris Commune as a "great confederation of sadness." PICTURES FROM A REVOLUTION, co-directed by Richard P. Rogers and Alfred Guzzetti, tries to captures this sense of pathos, whether in the frustrated ambition of the Toronto
auto worker who had dreamed of becoming an engineer, or the unknown fate of a seven-year-old boy whose mother recalls his pride at being chosen for a scholarship in Cuba prior to training in the former Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the juxtaposition of her old photographs and current interviews
seems pedestrian and predictable. Perhaps the use of a professional narrator and more imaginative scoring would have added the needed dimension. (Violence, nudity.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: Susan Meiselas, a photographer whose haunting pictures from Nicaragua during the struggle against Somoza's dictatorship received wide publication, returns to that beleaguered Central American country to retrace her steps and to interview some of the people… (more)