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Oscar Almengor and Eva Tamargo Lemus Chronicle of a Death Foretold New Film Provides an Elegy for Lost Guatemala BY LOUIS DUBOSE THE SILENCE OF NETO Directed by Luis Argueta Spanish with English subtitles Opens November 10 at the Dobie Theater in Austin \(The first Dobie screening, followed by a reception with Luis Argueta, will be a fundraiser for the Guatemalan Support Network’s Austin Chapter. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. For advance N 1954, GUATEMALA was governed by democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz, idle arable land was being expropriated at its declared taxable value and redistributed to landless peasants, and the country was at peace. In Washington, Henry Cabot Lodge, the Dulles brothers, and Dwight Eisenhower were ordering the CIA to destroy one of two democracies in Central America. And in Rome, Pius XII presided over a church whose hegemony and pre-Vatican II orthodoxy was yet to be challenged in Latin America. Yet despite its historical context, The Silence of Neto \(I would have preferred Neto’s Silence to the title transliterated from El Silencio de is not a polemical response to United Fruit’s foreign policy. In taking a historical moment and infusing it with nostalgia, Guatemalan filmmaker Luis Arguetaan exile who produced and directed the filmhas created a story that is incapable of bitterness or rancor. Argueta observes the death of Guatemalan democracy from the home of an upper-middle-class civil servant employed by the Arbenz ministry of justice. The Silence of Neto is the story of innocence lost, but by 1954 Eduardo Yepes, the emotionally austere civil servant portrayed by Guatemalan actor Julio Diaz, had long since lost his innocence. Perhaps it was lost when he came to terms with his wife’s earlier interest in his brother, Ernesto \(Herbert eponymous protagonist, Eduardo’s elevenArgueta, who along with Guatemalan screenwriter Justo Chang wrote the screen play, finds Neto \(an abbreviation of boy is bidding a reluctant farewell to childhood. Almengor, who tells much of the story through the nuances of a wonderfully expressive face, portrays a reticent and observant pre-adolescent, at times still loyal to the radio adventure trio, “Los Tres Villalobos,” at times an overeager consumer of the mens’ magazines that passed for photoerotica in the fifties, and at times pursuing his classmate Ani \(Ingrid Hernan middle-class family shortly after President Arbenz runs out of options and capitulates to Eisenhower, Dulles & Lodge. In a story that is almost soap-operatic in its setting, the domestic detailscooking, ironing, and card playingprovide an elaborate scrim that separates Neto from the larger reality of Guatemala’s encounter with North American political reality. From his bedroom, Neto plots a secret assault on one of his country’s highest volcanos, a rite of passage he will share with two classmates who, like him, are more interested in radio adventure serials than the false news bulletins broadcast by the CIAoperated radio station, or the news of a coup, and Arbenz’ resignation, which also plays out on the radio. Backpacks on their shoulders and singing the theme from “Los Tres Villalobos,” the three boys make it to the top of the mountain. But the grainy footage of their climb through lush jungle portends a descent into four decades of civil war and genocide, and larger rites of passage that three innocents savoring a day of truancy cannot understand. Neto returns to an angry father so preoccupied with the collapse of the Arbenz presidency and the impending death of his brother, Ernesto, that he has no time to scold the boy. LIKE THE BEST of Modern Latin Lit, which began with Quixote, The Silence of Neto is a story of the struggle between prudence and passion. Neto’s had made her choice years earlier, when she settled for the the safer of the two brothers interested in her. Ernesto, who has come home to die but claims he is in Guatemala because “Morocco was too hot, I thought I’d come back to cool off in the Cold War,” is the personification of every passion his sedate brother Eduardo has denied. And like all prodigal sons, he is more beloved than the brother who remained home and fattened the calf. But although . Ernesto fails in a discreet lifelong courtship of Neto’s mother, in the end he prevails in his struggle for the heart of his namesake, as Neto bolts from Ernesto’s funeral to launch a small Chinese hot air balloon his uncle taught him to construct and fly. The Silence of Neto is the work of writers who understand the importance of type and the weakness of stereotype. Augueta uses a ladino family a class that had completely adopted European cultureas a window into Guatemalan society in the 1950s. So the viewer sees Guatemala from the perspective of an urbane family that accepts Arbenz’ agrarian reform, seems to avoid ideology, and continues the intimate relationship with the Roman Catholic Church that was characteristic of people of privilege in all of Continued on p. 19 22 NOVEMBER 10, 1995