John Sayles


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Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980)

Lianna (1983)

Lianna is married to film professor Dick. They have two annoying children. She dropped out of school to dedicate her life to the family. She meets other wives at a night class. Out of the blue, her teacher, Ruth, seduces her. They make tender sex, all whispers and caresses. They keep seeing each other and making love. The first time she has an altercation with her husband, she tells him the truth. Her husband, who may have already been tempted, does not forgive: she has to move out and find a job. She truly loves Ruth, but it turns out Ruth does not love her: there is another woman. Ruth doesn't even let her move in with her, because it would hurt her career, although they remain lovers. Lianna realizes that she has always been attracted to women, and even sleeps with a neighbor. But eventually she is heartbroken when Ruth leaves her for good. She lost everything (husband, children, lover) out of true love.

Baby It's You (1983)

In 1966, a good-mannered Jewish high-school girl, Jill, who dreams of becoming an actress, is courted by a handsome, well-dressed and assertive Italian-American boy, "The Sheik". While he is expelled from school and starts a career stealing cars, she goes to a woman's college. He moves to Florida and becomes a lounge crooner. She is unhappy and goes to visit him. But she comes back determined to leave him behind. He loses his job and flies to her, determined to win her back. She tells him he is not the man of her life, but then asks him to take her to the ball.

Brother from Another Planet

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Matewan (1987) rievoca un massacro realmente avvenuto durante l'era dei primi scioperi organizzati. Sayles impiega modi e stili del western. Il film, benche' girato con mezzi modici, ha il feeling delle grandi epiche di Hollywood. Filmato in bianco e nero e in un blu grigio, condotto a passo lento, inquadrato in primo piano, il film ha spesso l'aspetto di un documentario, di un reportage. L'influenza di Ejzenstein e` fortissima. Ma anche quella della Bibbia... Matewan e` una cittadina della West Virginia. Un treno che trasporta minatori neri e italiani viene attaccato dai minatori bianchi che sono in sciopero. I padroni spiegano ai nuovi arrivati i loro doveri e le condizioni (miserabili) in cui vivranno.
Sullo stesso treno viaggia Joe, un sindacalista inviato dal sindacato a organizzare la protesta. Joe va a stare da Elma, la moglie di un minatore, il cui figlio Danny e` un prodigio di predicatore. Joe e` un po' il profeta inviato a spargere il verbo divino.
La compagnia pero` assolda due detective/gunmen per seminare lo scompiglio fra i minatori e loro sloggiano Joe dalla casa di Elma. Sono due uomini senza scrupoli, cinici e violenti.
Joe si rende subito conto che la compagnia sta attizzando odi razziali e tenta di convincere i bianchi che il nemico non e` l'altra razza.
Lo sceriffo Sid non si lascia impressionare dalle minacce della compagnia.
I neri e gli italiani si integrano con gli altri minatori, e in particolare il leader nero dei minatori di colore diventa uno dei caporioni.
Mentre continuano gli atti di sabotaggio, i minatori delle diverse etnie cominciano ad aiutarsi.
Le guardie sorprendono un giovane minatore che sta rubando, lo costringono a confessare i nomi dei capi della protesta e poi gli tagliano la gola. I gunmen ricevono l'ordine di buttar fuori le famiglie dei caporioni. I gunmen della compagnia sfidano lo sceriffo, che si oppone alla loro prepotenza. Vanno a cercarlo per ucciderlo, ma lo sceriffo si e` preparato e ha appostato uomini alle finestre. La sparatoria costa cara ai gunmen del padrone, che vengono decimati, ma anche ai minatori: Joe viene ucciso.
Sopravvive al massacro il ragazzo predicatore, che e` stato testimone di tutti questi atti, un simbolo che il Verbo dei lavoratori continuera` a diffondersi. E` lui, ormai anziano, che ha raccontato la storia, con i toni quasi biblici delle sue prediche,
Eight Men Out (1988) A Chicago nel 1919 il padrone di una squadra di baseball chiacchiera con i giornalisti. In realta` ci sono tensioni fra i giocatori e il padrone, un avaro senza ritegno. Fuori dallo stadio si complotta anche per truccare il risultato degli incontri e vincere ingenti somme alle scommesse. Una volta tutti i giocatori della squadra si lasciano convincere. Complessivamente, quasi tutti i protagonisti sono corrotti.
Attorno all'ambiente ronza uno stormo di reporter.
Gli intermediari chiedono e ottengono un'ingenta somma per pagare i giocatori a un ricco e grasso uomo d'affari di New York.
La squadra perde la partita, nonostante un giocatore, Buck, si rifiuti di stare al gioco e faccia di tutto per vincere. Perde anche la successiva, e l'allenatore perde la pazienza: mette in squadra una riserva che, per la gioia di Buck, fa vincere alla squadra il terzo incontro.
Perdono il quarto incontro come convenuto, ma vincono il successivo: nessuno li ha ancora pagati e cominciano a innervosirsi. Ma la mossa ha conseguenze devastanti: il boss di New York chiede che si rispettino i termini, ed entrano in gioco i sicari armati, che minacciano di morte i giocatori se non perdono l'ultima e decisiva partita. I giocatori la perdono.
Due giornalisti hanno pero` mangiaro la foglia, e dopo una rapida indagine cominciano a pubblicare articoli in cui accusano i giocatori che hanno danneggiato piu` palesemente la squadra.
Il padrone della squadra compie la sua indagine privata e scopre la verita`, ma poi viene convinto a insabbiare l'intera vicenda per salvare lo sport. Assumono un giudice che e` stato un eroe nazionale e gli affidano una commissione per ripulire l'ambiente. I giocatori confessano, si tiene un processo. Ma il processo diventa una farsa: le confessioni scompaiono misteriosamente, gli unici testimoni dell'accusa sono dei pregiudicati, il padrone della squadra nega di avere prove del malfatto, e naturalmente nessuno chiede di far testimoniare Buck, l'unico che direbbe la verita`. La giuria li assolve. Vengono portati in trionfo. Ma la confederazione del baseball li squalifica tutti a vita, anche Buck.
A parte il fascino della ricostruzione degli anni '20, il film e` una visione pessimistica dell'umanita`, in cui tutti sono guidati soltanto dalla cupidigia. Il disonore regna sovrano.

City of Hope (1991) is an ambitious fresco of an average American town through the interconnected lives of a multitude of characters. The town is corrupt, but not in any particularly emphatic way. It is just the way of life, that greed and graft drive people's lives. Sayles' camera drifts in and out of events and conversations, picking up a character when he left the previous one. And they always come back: it seems like an endless loop, where each character's story eventually leads to another character's life. Most of the action actually happens the very first day, from morning till late evening. The merry-go-round of characters feels like a soap opera, but a serious one. He explores different environments, from the black slums to city hall. He draws a social map of the town. There is no big hero and no major evil, only a middle turk where people are powerless and resigned, where idealism is shattered and compromise rules. Sayles' city of hope is a city of hopelessness, but a quiet brand of hopelessness. Sayles keeps a calm and determined pace, with none of the angry fervor of populist cinema.

Nick, the spoiled son of a wealthy contractor, has a very light job at his father's construction site but is bored and decides to quit. He is friend with Zip and Bobby, who hang out at the car repair shop of Carl, a sleazy, crippled crook. Wynn is a black councilman, an idealist who fights for the rights of poor people. In a restaurant, businessmen discuss a project for luxury apartments and a shopping mall that would create a lot of wealth, but that requires the destruction of a housing development in a poor part of the city, a building that belongs to Nick's father. Her waitress is Angela. The businessmen put pressure on the major: the new development now is a must for the mayor' political future. Zip and Bobby tell Nick of a robbery that Carl organized for them. Nick, who is broke, first stops at his father's house, where his family is throwing a party. His father is being pressured to sell the old building but he explains that he can't evict people who don't want to leave. His father uses his political connections to make deals and has turned into a slumlord. Nick talks to his father who is angered by Nick's resignation. They argue and Nick leaves the house.
Two black teenagers who are just walking are stopped and searched by two police officers. One of the two, Mike, is ruthless and worries his partner.
Nick meets Carl in a bar: Carl is also a loan shark and Nick still owes him money. In the same bar, Nick meets waitress Angela and falls in love with her. She has divorced her abusive husband, a violent cop who turns out to be the very Mike, and is raising a retarded child by herself. Everybody reminds Nick of his brother Tony who died a hero in the war. Everybody makes him feel like he is the black sheep of the family.
The city council is discussing school bonds but nobody listens to Wynn's passionate defense of the idea. In the meantime, the two black teenagers, in retaliation for being harassed by the cops, hit the first white person they meet, who happens to be a professor jogging in the street. The professor runs away and alerts the two police officers, who find the kids and arrest them. Nick decides to accept his friends' offer, but the robbery is pathetically botched and Nick has to run. At the police station, when Nick's friends are taken in, the two black teenagers are helped by a black social worker, who believes one of the kids (Desmond), when he insinuates that the professor tried to molest them.
Nick meets Angela in the middle of the night and, ever more impressed by her, walks her home. Mike, the violent police officer, sees everything and, jealous, threatens Nick. His partner onle gets more worried. Somebody from the police wants to know who was the third robber and Carl tells him.
Wynn goes to talk to Desmond about the molestation charges and realizes that he is lying, but Desmond's mother protects her child and the militants are only too eager to seize on the opportunity.
Nick's father is told that Nick is wanted. The way to clear up things is for Nick's father to go along with a criminal plan: burn down his own buildings so that people can be evicted and then sell. The mayor tries to convert (or buy) Wynn to his cause but Wynn is not for sale. Nick's father gives Carl the green light and Carl sets fire to the buildings. Mike is spying on Angela and Nick who are making love. The arson turns out to more serious than Carl promised and a child dies.
Wynn, torn between the white establishment and black militants, while nobody seems to listen to the real issues, visits a retired black mayor who basically tells him to compromise, because that's life. The mayor keeps his end of the bargain with Nick's father and merely shrugs when told that one child died in the fire.
Wynn visits the white professor, whom he has known for years, and convinces him to drop the charges. Again, it is a compromise: the professor stands to gain nothing from a trial, so why stand by the truth?
Nick finds out that Carl spilled his name to the police, like he did to his brother Tony when Tony was involved in an accident. But Carl tells him the real story behind Tony's heroism: Carl lost his leg in the car accident caused by Tony, who was not the hero Nick has always been told. Nick has guessed that Carl is the arsonist but feels powerless.
Desmond's mom realizes that her child is lying. At a meeting of the black community Wynn is hailed as a hero when he announces that the charges against Desmond are being dropped and that police abuse will be investigated. Thus Wynn manages to shift the focus of black anger to the fire, which is what he really cares for. By compromising, he basically hijacked the militant movement. They march on city hall and disrupt the dinner at which the mayor is announcing the new luxury development at a crowd of wealthy contributors.
In the evening Mike, off duty, ambushes Nick in an alley and wounds him and Nick narrowly escapes. Mike is arrested by his own partner.
Desmond goes to apologize to the white professor.
Nick's father finds Nick, who has been hiding wounded at the construction site. Nick's father tells Nick that Tony was not a hero: he ran away from the scene of the accident and his father saved him from criminal charges. That is why Tony had to leave for the war, where he was eventually killed. His father tells him that the police are no longer after him, and Nick understands what the arson was for. Nick is both disgusted and moved. His father realizes that Nick is seriously wounded and, in the middle of the night, calls for help, but there is no soul around and the only one to respond is a madman.

Passion Fish (1993) is the story of an unlikely friendship.

May-Alice, a former soap-opera star whose career has been destroyed by a car accident, moves back to her native Louisiana house. She is paralyzed and bitter about life. No nurse can stand her until Chantelle, an African-American, arrives. May-Alice, obviously a spoiled woman, makes a point of being unfriendly and unpleasant to everybody, but Chantelle does not seem to mind. Other than a stubborn demeanor, the two women have nothing in common: one is white and rich, the other one is black and poor. It turns out Chantelle is undergoing her own existential crisis: she cries when she's alone in her room. May-Alice's uncle Max pays a visit, the beginning of a cruel parade of ghosts from the past, like a conspiracy to push her back in time. The visit of two old friends is a torture for May-Alice. By coincidence, Chantelle hires a man to do repairs around the house who happens to be an old flame of May-Alice. May-Alice went on to become a star, while Rennie got married with a bigot, had five children, and made a living as a handyman and a swamp guide. But now she is lonely and on a wheelchair, while he has a life. All she can do is drink on it. The idyllic setting of the house does not help. In fact, it seems to increase the sense of loneliness and helplessness.
While Chantelle is out with Ulysses, a black cowboy who if flirting with her, an intimidating black man shows up at the house and asks questions about Chantelle. The story is that Chantelle was the lover of a rich man, became a drug addict and went through rehabilitation. Chantelle does not bend to the lady's arrogant attitude, and the lady eventually begans to appreciate it. She even tells Chantelle that she doesn't have the nurse uniform.
Actresses from the soap opera come to visit too. They continuously confuse real life and acting. She is faced with the bored, artificial life that she used to live, and finds it as despicable as the uneventful Louisiana life. Each of the visits bring out a different aspect of May-Alice's persona. Together, they recreate her life.
Rennie, who loves to spend as much time as possible in the bayou, takes her (and Chantelle) for a boat trip, and, for the first time, she gets very excited.
Tanita, Chantelle's daughter, shows up, another ghost from the past, accompanied by the legal guardian, her dad. It's only a short visit, a remined that she is still on "probation". At the same time, the producer of the soap opera comes to see May-Alice with a proposal for her to stage a comeback, but it's a humiliating deal. Now the two women exchange feelings and opinions. They are becoming friends. May-Alice finally admits that she needs Chantelle, and offers to help her get her daughter back.

The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)

Lone Star (1996)

Nel perimetro di una postazione militare nel deserto del Texas due soldati rinvengono lo scheletro di un uomo. Chiamano lo sceriffo della citta`, Sam, e scoprono una stella da sceriffo sepolta nella polvere. Lo sceriffo governa su una cittadina multirazziale in cui si confondono le istanze dei bianchi, ormai ridotti a una minoranza, dei neri, da sempre segregati, e dei messicani, per lo piu` immigrati illegali o figli di. L'anziano Hollis, ex vice sceriffo ai tempi del famigerato Charlie Wade, racconta a Sam come Wade terrorizzasse quelle terre abusando dei propri poteri. Era noto che Wade prendeva una tangente su tutte le attivita` illegali, compreso il commercio in immigrati illegali. Chi si opponeva ai suoi metodi o rifiutava di pagare veniva fatto sparire. L'altro vice sceriffo era Buddy, il padre di Sam. Buddy un giorno si oppose ai sistemi di Charlie Wade e lo sfido` a duello. Wade scomparve poco tempo dopo con i soldi della contea e non venne mai piu` ritrovato. Sam si fa subito l'idea che suo padre abbia ammazzato Wade e incomincia a scavare nel passato. Inizia una lunga odissea che lo portera` di testimone in testimone e di luogo in luogo, a ricostruire quell'epoca passata (l'intera epoca, non soltanto un evento).
Una quarta componente della popolazione locale e` costituita dai soldati della guarnigione, che frequentano in particolare il locale del vecchio Odess.
Infine c'e` la scuola. L'insegnante piu` generosa e` Pilar, una vedova che tenta come puo` di educare i propri figli e in generale i ragazzi della citta`. Gli attriti razziali si fanno pero` sentire anche li`. Quando suo figlio viene arrestato, Pilar incontra Sam, una sua vecchia fiamma del liceo che non rivedeva da anni. E` Sam a intercedere per far liberare suo figlio.
Continuando a indagare, Sam scopre che poco prima di sparire Wade ebbe anche un alterco con Odess, a quei tempi umile barista. Tento` in tutti i modi di umiliarlo in pubblico, ma Odess non si lascio` piegare. Sam comincia anche a capire che suo padre, da tutti considerato un eroe per essere stato (dopo Wade) uno sceriffo modello, non era in realta` molto migliore: anche lui era corrotto, soltanto che viveva in un mondo in cui le organizzazioni contavano gia` piu` degli individui, e pertanto la politica prevaleva sulle pallottole. Cio` nonostante Sam, Hollis e tutte le autorita` del paese presenziano all'inaugurazione di un monumento in onore di Buddy.
La madre di Pilar, Mercedes, e` padrona di un ristorante. E` anche lei messicana, ma si atteggia ad americana e tratta i messicani come delle bestie.
Il comandante della guarnigione e` un nero, Delmore. Pochi sanno che e` il figlio di Odess, e che, convinto che il padre l'avesse abbandonato al suo destino dopo averlo messo al mondo, gli rivolge a malapena la parola. Il caso lo ha riportato a quel forte.
Sam ricostruisce tutte le malefatte di Wade e poi tutte quelle di suo padre. Scopre che Wade uccise sparandogli alle spalle il marito di Mercedes, Eladio, che stava portando un camion di immigrati illegali negli USA. Lo uccise perche' Eladio aveva rifiutato di pagargli la tangente. Hollis rimase terrificato nel vederlo giustiziare quel ragazzo a sangue freddo.
Le cose non sono cambiate di molto, si sono soltanto fatte piu` sofisticate. Buddy e` stato eletto sceriffo dai borghesi della citta` perche' soltanto uno con il suo cognome poteva scalzare lo sceriffo precedente. Adesso pero` le stesse persone vogliono costruire una nuova prigione per specularci sopra e la sua opposizione gli costera` probabilmente il posto.
Fra i tanti passati che la sua indagine rievoca, c'e` anche il suo personale. Da ragazzo era innamorato di Pilar, ma i due ragazzi vennero separati a forza da suo padre. Sam non capiva perche' suo padre e la madre di lei fossero cosi` determinati nel tenerli lontani. Lui l'ha amata tutti questi anni, e le confessa di essere tornato in citta` per ritrovare lei. Fanno l'amore.
Il figlio di Delmore va a trovare Odess. Delmore andra` anche a cercare Odess, senza trovarlo: ma vedra` che Odess ha conservato gelosamente in salotto i ritagli di giornale che parlano di lui, e capira` che Odess non lo aveva dimenticato. Quando suo figlio gli chiedera` del nonno, Delmore promettera` di riconcigliarsi. E` una delle tante storie laterali, che parlano di riconciliazione generazionale.
Sam scopre anche che Buddy aveva un'amante e non impiega molto a capire chi fosse: Mercedes. Fu grazie a soldi che Sam le fece avere ai danni della comunita` che Mercedes pote` aprire il suo ristorante. Per scoprire di piu` va a trovare la moglie, una psicotica imbottita di pillole, e spulcia tutto cio` che suo padre gli lascio`.
Uno dei dipendenti di Mercedes aiuta messicani a varcare il confine. Una sera capita un incidente a una ragazza. Il ragazzo va a chiedere l'aiuto di Mercedes. La crudele Mercedes sta per chiamare la polizia, ma finalmente si ricorda come lei stessa arrivo` negli USA: un bel ragazzo di nome Eladio le diede la mano per attraversare il fiume. Carica la ragazza in auto e la porta da un dottore.
Sam e` sempre piu` convinto che Buddy abbia ucciso Wade, ma Odess gli rivela finalmente cosa successe. Una sera Wade venne a regolare i conti con lui e stava per sparargli a bruciapelo come aveva fatto con Eladio quando Hollis, il suo luogotenente vigliacco, finalmente trovo` il coraggio di fermarlo e gli sparo` alle spalle. Hollis e` li` a confermare. Poi Buddy li aiuto` a occultare il cadavere. Nessuno in citta` fece domande, tanto erano contenti di essersi liberati del prepotente.
Sam ha scoperto intanto qualcos'altro: che Pilar nacque un anno e mezzo dopo che Eladio era morto. Pilar e` figlia illegittima di Buddy, Pilar e Sam sono fratellastri. Cio` nonostante decidono di ricostruirsi una vita insieme. Sam ha tentato tutta la vita di uscire dall'ombra del padre, e invece il padre possedeva anche l'unica cosa che sembrava fuori dalla sua portata.
Alla fine Buddy rimane un eroe per tutti, meno che per i suoi due figli.
Tutte le storie fanno perno su macchiette, ciascuna delle quali e` caratterizzata con fine e bonario umorismo e al tempo stesso ha un suo significato sociale, politico o filosofico.
Il film consiste principalmente in due serie di storie intrecciate, una per ciascuna generazione, che poi si propagano ciascuna in quelle della generazione successiva. Talvolta il passaggio da un evento contemporaneo a uno passato avviene semplicemente facendo ruotare la cinepresa da un attore a un altro nello stesso scenario.
Al tempo stesso il film e` un apologo sull'eroismo, che quasi sempre nasconde una realta` ben piu` misera. E infine il film e` l'odissea personale di un uomo che vuole scoprire il proprio passato, e finira` per pagare di persona per quella verita`.
Il film possiede anche una qualita` mitica: l'azione e` ambientata sullo sfondo delle leggende di un passato turbolento, quando non esistevano leggi e istituzioni, ma soltanto uomini e il loro coraggio. Il film e` quasi nostalgico nei confronti di quell'epoca in cui contava l'uomo. Sam confessa di essere soltanto il gestore di una prigione. Wade era un vero sceriffo. Buddy era un vero sceriffo. E infatti loro divennero leggende, nel bene e nel male. Lui non lo diventera` mai: cio` che lo aspetta e` tutt'al piu` una quieta esistenza borghese.
Il film e` anche percorso da un tema di riconciliazione generazionale (Sam e suo padre, Odess e Delmore) e di riconciliazione razziale (Sam e Pilar, il soldato bianco e la soldatessa nera).

Written in Spanish, English, Nahuatl, Tzotzil, Maya and Kuna, Men With Guns (1997) is a multi-tiered allegory. At the lower level, it is an allegory about the relationship of ordinary people with war, and, more in general, with history. At a higher level, it is an allegory about the meaning of life. And, ultimately, it is an allegory about memory, both individual and collective memory. The allegory, as it is often the case in literature since Dante's "Divine Comedy", takes the the form of a journey: a man, who is entering the last phase of his life, is forced to face truth when he is confronted with a strange environment. His guide through hell is a poor indio boy, who grew up in the middle of a civil war. Away from his safe haven, the man rediscovers humanity, for better and for worse. Soon he is surrounded by a microcosm of humanity. Everybody in his group has lost her or his faith, starting with the doctor himself. Suddenly, the doctor's mission becomes to rebuild that faith in all of them, starting, again, with himself. The lesson for him is, of course, that sscientific knowledge is not a substitute for real life: the doctor's knowledge. has been useless because real people were busy with the war. The Babel of languages is an allegory within the allegory: the chracters can't communicate properly because of linguistic divisions that stand for the cultural and moral divisions of the world.

In the first scene an indigenous woman speaks to her child in the language of their tribe about the people of the city, who are different from them: they don't get the same diseases, and they have doctors instead of shamans. In the second scene a doctor is visiting a patient: when the patient gets dressed, we realize he is a general.
In the big city of a Latin American country, Humberto, an elderly doctor, is a successful man whose patients are mostly rich and powerful people. His children are rich, spoiled and racist urban kids. They dine in fancy restaurants. Humberto, who recently has lost his life and is considering retirement, has reached the point of life when he would like to be remembered for something else than just money. His main contribution to society was training a group of young doctors to work among the poor of the country. They have never written back to him and he is wondering how they carried out their mission. He seems totally unaware that there was a civil war raging in those areas. The first student he meets tells him that the program was discontinued: the kid now works in a pharmacy. Humberto decides to track down the other students and thus ventures into a remote poor village. On the way, he meets two American tourists who are looking for some ruins. They ask him if it is true that atrocities were committed in the region, and Humberto replies that those things happen only in other countries. When he reaches the village, he finds himself among the indios of the rain forest who have been forgotten by the ruling class. They are afraid of him and refuse to talk to him. Finally, a blind woman tells him that the doctor (Humberto's student) was killed, burned alive by "mens with guns". All her children have been killed too. Humberto would like to know who and why committed those atrocities, but the woman simply replies "men with guns". For the first time he realizes the living conditions of these poor people, amid a terrible civil war. At the hotel he meets again the American tourists, who are reading a book about the ancient civilization of the region. The following day Humberto goes to the police and tells them that a doctor has been murdered. The police officer advises him against continuing his trip because of guerrilla activity. As Humberto walks out of the police station, he sees kids stealing the hubcaps of his jeep, right in front of the police station (a sign of the anarchy that reigns in the region).
Nonetheless he decides to continue his trip. He drives as far into the forest as he can, then starts walking up the hill to another village. Again, the natives do not want to talk to him. Eventually, a woman begs him to take a look at her sick child. But the child is not sick, Humberto realizes, just hungry. A orphaned boy, Conejo, tells him that there is no food in the village because the price of coffee has collapsed and they don't have money to buy anything else. Humberto asks the child where their doctor (his student) is. The child takes him to a mass grave. The doctor was tortured and then killed, with many others, by the army. Humberto asks in vain "why". The child also tells him that the men of the village are hiding because they saw him, but now they know that he is alone and might kill him. Humberto does not even understand why these men would want to kill him. So the child takes him to the school, the only safe place. The child tells him that the school used to be the place where soldiers tortured people. He, Conejo, used to work for them. Ironically, the soldiers used the tools of the doctor (Humberto's student) to carry out their atrocities.
The woman of the first scene tells her child about a woman who was raped by the soldiers. The soldiers, she concludes, are not good or bad: they are just what they are, like dogs are dogs.
The following day the child takes Humberto to another village, where Humberto hopes to meet yet another former student, but the village does not exist anymore: the soldiers wiped it out. Humberto and the child walk back to the car, but someone has stolen the tires. A man shows up: he is a deserter and robs him of all his money and his bag of tools, but he knows nothing of his tires. Humberto and the child are left in the moddle of nowhere, with no way to call for help. After dark, the former soldier, Domingo, comes back: he has robbed some tourists, but got a bullet. He now needs help from the doctor and brought him some tires. After the doctor saves his life, Domingo orders him to drive him further inland. At night, when Domingo falls asleep, Humberto takes his gun and realizes that he doesn't even have bullets. When they get to the next town, Humberto ignores Domingo's threats and looks for the local doctor, another former student of his. Again, he is told that the doctor was killed, this time by the guerrilla, who considered him guilty of treating wounded soldiers. While Humberto is looking for his student, Domingo buys bullets.
When they resume their journey, they are stopped by a man, Portillo, who asks them for a ride. Just like Domingo, he also tells Humberto that he simply wants to go "further ahead". Like Domingo, he has no stable residence. Portillo is a former priest, who says he used to be a good priest until he was tested by life. The priest wanted to save souls, like Humberto wanted to save bodies. Humberto himself admits they are both failures. All of his students died: Humberto's legacy died with them. At night the priest tells his story. He was loved by the people of his village, who saw him as their protector. The army destroyed all the nearby villages. One day the army came and demanded that, within one hour, they killed five men and the priest. The army had guns, the indios of the village had only machetes. The men of the village discussed the matter and reached the conclusion that the wise thing to do was for the six men to accept the execution. The very man who led the discussion was one of the six, and was not afraid of dying to save the people of his village. The father accepted the will of the majority, but then he ran away like a rat. The other five men stayed and were killed by the villagers. When the army came, the commander was not satisfied that the priest had escaped and burned down the village killing everybody.
Domingo the deserter, who studied medicine but became a mass murderer, asks the priest to receive his confession, and tells him of the atrocities he committed as a soldier, starting with the cold-blooded killing of a child. Later, they are stopped at a road block, and the police take away the priest to interrogate him. It is another village where one of Humberto's students was dispatched: he too was killed, executed for helping the guerrillas. While he is waiting for the priest, Humberto offers to check out the indios, who see a doctor only every three months. Most of them are refugees from villages that had been destroyed, and are watched by the army. Basically, the village is now a concentration camp. One of the people in line to be examined is a young woman, who has not spoken since she was raped two years earlier. Conejo hears from the indios of a legendary village, "Cerca del Cielo" ("Near the Sky"), that is so far from civilization that it has remained immune to war. A female doctor is still among the villagers: she is the last of Humberto' students. Domingo does not believe that "Cerca del Cielo" exists, because, as a soldier, he looked for it and couldn't find it.
At night the soldiers tell Humberto to leave as soon as possible because of guerrilla activity. The priest remains in their custody. Humberto decides to look for the last of her students, even if it entails climbing up a steep mountain. On the road they are stopped by the deaf girl. She points her finger towards the top of the mountain, signifying that she too wants to go there. Domingo is haunted by the memory of a village where he raped a young woman: maybe he knows why the female doctor is nowhere to be found...
They find no trail. As they hike up the mountain through the dense forest, they meet, of all people, the American tourists, who are exploring some ancient ruins. They tell Humberto that they were robbed of the tires (they are the ones whom Domingo robbed). Still clueless of what is going on around them, the two Americans discuss history and she even utters a "It is so peaceful here" that sounds comic.
Humberto and his group meet the guerrillas, who also don't believe that "Cerca del Cielo" exists.
The woman of the first scene is explaining to her child why the people are looking for "Cerca del Cielo". And there they are: Humberto and the others reach the place where she is, like she is some shaman who knew they were coming all along. She tells her child that he, Humberto, has come to stay, like she can see the future. Humberto has indeed reached his destination: this is a village inside the jungle. They have been careful not to cut the trees, lest the soldiers could see them from the helicopters. They have no huts, they live under the trees. And they don't have any doctor: Humberto fails to meet even his last student. His legacy is a bunch of villages destroyed by the war. He sits down and dies: as the shaman had predicted, he is going to stay. All his scientific knowledge dies with him. He dies knowing that he has been an utter failure. A child comes begging for a doctor to take care of her mother. Domingo and Conejo tell her that the doctor is dead. But she insists: she needs a doctor for her mother. Domingo remembers that he was trained to be a doctor and picks up Humberto's bag. Humberto's death has not been in vain.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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