Luis Argueta's first feature film is also the first major feature to come out of Guatemala. In it, he uses one of the most traumatic eras in his country's history as a backdrop for a fairly universal coming-of-age tale.
It is 1954, and adolescent Antonio "Neto" Ypes (Oscar Javier Almengor) is visited by the ghost of his Uncle Ernesto (Herbert Meneses), who counsels, "The worst thing you can do is not say what you feel." A flashback to six months earlier shows Neto, a privileged kid in the nation's capital,
troubled by an uncomfortable relationship with his domineering, emotionally remote father Eduardo (Julio Diaz), a judge. Uncle Ernesto is Neto's favorite, a footloose dandy compelled by ill health to return to the household he once abandoned. Neto's 14th birthday crystallizes the contrast between
the grown-ups: Ernesto gives Neto a paper balloon to release in a traditional celebration, but Eduardo takes charge and launches it himself, rather than accord his son the privilege.
Meanwhile, the elected leftist president of Guatemala has offended US commercial interests, particularly those of the United Fruit Company, and Washington-directed leaflets drift down from the heavens naming public servants, including Neto's father, as Communists. Soon aerial bombardment of a more
explosive sort forces the Ypes's temporary evacuation to Ernesto's earlier residence on Antigua. When they return to bullet-pocked Guatemala City, a Yankee-friendly regime is in power, some neighbors have permanently "disappeared," a few corpses still lie unburied, new schoolteachers are rabidly
pro-USA, and Senor Ypes has lost his job to a junta appointee. During the tumult, the truth gradually emerges that Ernesto once loved Neto's mother Elena (Eva Tamargo Lemus). When Ernesto dies, the Ypes family's children and remaining servants honor him with another paper balloon, this time
launched by Neto.
The young, endearingly ungainly Neto is mainly a passive observer of events and something of an enigma to the viewers. Though clearly cognizant of the adult crises and insanity around him, the boy drifts casually through them, recalling Truffaut's dictum about childhood being a "state of grace."
When he and his friends find a loaded machine gun in the underbrush and near-tragedy results, they all just laugh it off and continue with their pretend adventures as radio heroes "The Three Villalobos." Even in a state of emergency, argues the filmmaker, kids the world over have their own inner
lives and concerns upon which not even the United Fruit Company may intrude. (Adult situations.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: Luis Argueta's first feature film is also the first major feature to come out of Guatemala. In it, he uses one of the most traumatic eras in his country's history as a backdrop for a fairly universal coming-of-age tale. It is 1954, and adolescent Antonio… (more)