MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Maria’s Story’ Is Salvador’s Struggle


“Maria’s Story” (Monica 4-Plex), an example of the documentary at its most illuminating and succinct, introduces us to a remarkable and engaging woman, a dynamic 39-year-old Salvadoran peasant--a wife and mother of three who has become a charismatic guerrilla leader.

Short and stocky, possessed of an inner radiance, a ready wit, a healing touch, a strong intellect and matter-of-fact common sense, Maria Serrano is a kind of ultimate earth mother, a natural poet who can compare the flowering of revolution with giving birth.

Once we’ve made her acquaintance, felt her impact and been given a sense of her constantly roving--and highly dangerous--daily life, filmmakers Monona Wall and Pamela Cohen follow her on a visit to her hometown, Arcatao, which becomes a journey into the past that allows us to see how a farmer’s wife was transformed into an implacable rebel. As we approach the ruins of what was once an attractive mountain community of 10,000, now reduced to a 1,000, black-and-white flash cuts of archival footage reveal its systematic destruction by the military.


It was here that as a child Maria, in her hunger for education that her family could not afford, agreed to sit on the floor of the local school so that she might learn. It was here that she met and married her husband Jose, to whom she remains passionately devoted, and later was forced to hear the shrieks of the tortured from the nearby headquarters of the security forces.

Although on the move since the destruction of Arcatao in early 1979, Maria did not formally join the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) until 1987, the same year that her eldest daughter was killed in an ambush. “If you adopt the armed struggle it’s because you have no other choice,” she says, “when you see the possibility of saving your life you save it, and if that means picking up a gun, you pick it up.”

Maria herself observes that her story is the story of the Salvadoran guerrilla movement, and in giving it shape and meaning, the filmmakers, which include the graceful cinematographer John Knoop, confront us with our country’s responsibility in the ongoing ordeal of Maria and her people while taking us way beyond political rhetoric. Maria insists that the Salvadoran civil war is not a struggle between the East and West--i.e., communism vs. capitalism. Rather, it’s about “not having enough to eat, not having a roof over your head and not having justice.” The sobering end crawl of “Maria’s Story” (Times-rated Mature) states that the United States has given the Salvadoran government $4.5 billion to try to crush the FMLN.

The 53-minute “Maria’s Story” is effectively complemented by “Graffiti,” Matthew Patrick’sq 28-minute 1986 Oscar-nominated adaptation of a Julio Cortazar story. In a shining display of pure visual narrative, Patrick tells us of a young man (E. J. Castillo) in an unnamed South American country under military rule, who daringly taunts the regime with his liberation slogans painted on walls during the dark of night. In the course of his activities he encounters another artist, a young woman (Ivy Broya), as elusive as he, who sketches in pastels whimsical surreal images. An American Film Institute production, “Graffiti,” beautifully shot by Zoli Vidor, emerges as a romantic political parable, as powerful as it is poetic.

‘Maria’s Story’

A Camino Film Projects presentation in association with Channel Four (Britain). Directors Monona Wall, Pamela Cohen. Producers Cohen, Catherine Ryan. Cinematographer John Knoop. Editors Wall, Anita Clearfield. Music Todd Boekelheide. In Spanish with English voice-overs and subtitles. Running time: 53 minutes.

Times-rated: Mature (material too intense for small children).


E. J. Castillo Young Man

Ivy Broya Young Woman

An American Film Institute presentation. Director Matthew Patrick. Producer Diana Costello. Executive producers Mary Lazar, Richard Cohen. Screenplay by Patrick & Randee Russell. Cinematographer Zoli Vidor. Editor Stephan Mark. Music Robert Randles. Production design Julia Riva. Art director Nina Ruscio. Sound TAJ Soundworks. Running time: 28 minutes.


Times-rated: Mature (for adult themes, complex style).