Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Dust (orig. Polvo) 
Dust (orig. Polvo)  (directed and cowritten by Julio Hernández Cordón along with Mateo Iribarren) is a Guatemalan/German and Chilean (Spanish language, English subtitled) film that played recently at the 29th Chicago Latino Film Festival about the lingering psychological effects on the rural victims of the brutal 30 year Civil War that raged in Guatemala during much of the Cold War.
The story centers on Juan (played by Agustin Ortíz Pérez) a troubled villager whose father had been murdered along with most of his home village in the aftermath of a Guatemalan military counter-insurgency sweep sometime during the 1960s or 1970s. The only reason why Juan and his mother Delfina (played by María Telón Soc) had survived was that when she and Juan along with the rest of the villagers were being marched out of town she tripped (and presumably dragging down her son) and was able to be passed-over in the brush by the (para)military detachment that later performed the massacre and leveled the village. Juan and his mother had resettled in another town some distance away.
What caused particular anguish to Juan was that the man he and other survivors of the massacre were convinced had betrayed their village (and thus was responsible for the murder of his father and most of the villagers) lived then in the same town where they had resettled afterwards.
What to do? Well as he explained to a German documentary film-maker (played by Eduardo Spiegeler) who had come in to make a documentary about the recovery of the the bones of the victims of the massacre that had occurred decades ago, "What the heck can we do?" Apparently though convinced of the responsibility/guilt of the man in question there never was any solid proof. Yet the survivors (and certainly Juan) hated the man for it. Indeed, after film-maker had asked Juan about this intense hatred Juan had for the man, Juan's mother abruptly wanted to end her (and Juan's) cooperation with the film makers, telling them (more or less obviously): "You people just don't understand. You are asking Juan questions that are very painful to him."
And she spoke with correctly here, because even as the "documentarians" were going about their business of filming what would be their wonderful documentary, viewers of this film were able to follow Juan's troubled behavior: He tries to kill himself (not particularly effectively) ... again. He cuts himself and the sits himself down beside Delfina's bed. When she wakes-up she finds him on the floor unconscious but not dead. So she puts him into a wheelbarrow and wheels him to a clinic for care... Soon afterwards, we find him playing a portable battery operated keyboard for a local street corner preacher. Then we see him interacting first in a seemingly friendly manner and later in a sabotaging manner with the man he's convinced was responsible for killing his father and most of his home village. And this goes on throughout most of the film... until it reaches a more or less clear breaking point.
I found the film both very, very sad and very honest. The peasants of rural Guatemala suffered in truly unimaginable ways during the fighting of the Cold War. Hundreds of thousands of people mostly unarmed villagers had been murdered, entire villages razed/wiped off the face of the earth. This can not but leave enormous psychic scars. YET THIS IS (POOR) GUATEMALA.
Honestly folks, imagine the horror of 9/11 repeated continuously for 30 years producing a death toll 30-50 times greater than 9/11 AND NO ONE (OF CONSEQUENCE...) SEEING ANY OF IT. No headlines from Le Monde in the massacres' (PLURAL ... CONTINUOUS FOR 30 YEARS) aftermath declaring "Today we're ALL GUATEMALANS."
Imagine the amount of counseling we've been able to give our 9/11 survivors (And I'm writing this review a day after the 4/15 bombings at the Boston Marathon another TERRIBLE life-altering tragedy for so many people/survivors). Now imagine NONE OF THE SERVICES (or NEXT TO NONE OF THEM) that we provide survivors of terrorism or other horrific tragedies available to all those survivors of all those massacres in Guatemalan countryside. That's what this film is about ...
Now honestly, what to do? After seeing this movie, I did check and there are groups like: Psychology Beyond Borders and a Psychological division of Doctors Without Borders. And of course there are continuing efforts of various religious charitable organizations (including, of course, Catholic Relief Services and Food for the Poor that are always stretched and have various competing though always urgent priorities).
But honestly, at least say a prayer for these poor people who've suffered so much and try to understand what they've gone through. That would be but the very first step to help set things right...
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