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Issue #1799      October 18, 2017

Film Review by Karl Stratton

Warrior, one life many battles

Guerrero, Una Vida, Muchas Batallas (Warrior, One Life Many Battles) is a beautifully crafted movie which covers the life of Manuel Guerrero Ceballos and his son also called Manuel (Guerrero Antequera). Manuel Guerrero was the head of the Teacher’s Union in Chile under Pinochet. Along with Santiago Nattino, a painter and supporter of the union and Jose Manuel Parades, a human rights worker of the Catholic church organisation Vicaria De La Solidaridad, Manuel Guerrero was murdered. Under a dictatorship notorious for its cruelty and barbarity these men were murdered in the most brutal of ways in what became known as Caso Degollados (Slit-throat Case). It shocked the nation mobilising thousands who had until then been silent.

The director is Sebastian Moreno. He very adeptly takes us on a journey seen through the eyes of the young Manuel on his journey to becoming the man he is now. The story is narrated in the first person by Manuel. Spoken in the present and in the past. The pace is rhythmic and we touch on the important places and people on this journey.

The movie opens with images of a young Manuel happy with his loving parents in the hopeful days of Allende’s Chile. Like many Chileans his parents were active in the Communist Youth forging a new and better world for all. Then came the US backed coup and his father was kidnapped. A nation in shock. Fear. People in hiding. Thousands missing. Thousands tortured and murdered. For many months no one knew where his father was. Eventually Manuel was found and they all found refuge in Hungary. We see his old school there. His old apartment. Deep snow. Peace. But also sadness. We meet his old school friend. Also a Chilean refugee. His parents continue to work for the liberation of Chile.

The cinematography is superbly realised by Moreno and David Bravo. There is a beautiful piece where Manuel revisits Moscow where he went with his father. For his father the visit to Moscow was a pivotal moment in his political commitment. It invigorated him. It was the place where it all started. Where Recabarren was inspired to create the party. Where Lenin and the Bolsheviks ruled. For the younger Manuel it was the place of a real life Superman Yuri Gagarin.

Due to the pressures of exile on the family, Manuel’s mother ended up leaving, taking the children to live for a time in Barcelona. Though the marriage was over the family was reunited again in Chile when they joined his father who had returned in 1982. Manuel’s father knew he was in danger if he returned. He told his son “No matter what happens to me do not blame the Party”

Manuel was 14 years old when his father was kidnapped and brutally murdered. He was snatched right outside Manuel’s school where he had been visiting in his job as the Inspector of Schools. At that moment he took up his father’s fight. Calm and articulate beyond his years he gave a public speech. Quoting Brecht and promising to continue his father’s work for the freedom and rights of all. He became a leader of the students and youth and was able to work publicly for a few years until he had to go into hiding and eventually exile again. He dedicated himself to becoming a Superman to get the vengeance and justice for his father and so many others.

He trained physically and mentally to one day be in a position to kill Pinochet. His deep rage and grief driving him. But several years later seeing the look of horror on his friend’s faces when describing how easy it can be to kill someone that he realised he couldn’t do it. He remembered his father and his real life Super Hero Yuri Gagarin, who despite all his greatness and achievements the best thing about them both was their great love and kindness and humanity. So Manuel became a super man instead. It took a long and painful journey to get to that point as we see as we journey with him.

I saw this screening at STARTTS (Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors) in a room full of Chilean refugees most of whom had similar journeys of loss and exile. Many of kidnapping and torture like his father. Several of whom knew his father. It was emotional for all. Do see this film if you get the opportunity. It is beautifully filmed. An inner and outer journey of the soul. A story of loss of exile and unimaginable pain. Be enraged by the injustice. Feel the sadness and the small joys within this movie. And when it is over go out and change the world in big and small ways. Unite with others to do the same. As we journey with Manuel through this movie, his life, what he learned from his experiences teach us how.

Sebastian Moreno used several archival pieces from Australian filmmaker David Bradbury’s Chile. Hasta Cuando?

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