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MOVIE REVIEW : Coming of Age During the Falkland Islands Conflict

March 16, 1990|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Miguel Periera's "Veronico Cruz" (at the Monica 4-Plex's Premiere Showcase) is an Argentine film of stunning simplicity that suggests how the lives of those living in primitive conditions in remote areas can be affected drastically by distant political events.

On one level, it is the touching, familiar story of a young, dedicated schoolteacher (Juan Jose Camero) who perseveres in a rugged locale and inspires a bright peasant boy (Gonzalo Morales) with a thirst for knowledge and a desire to find his way in the larger world. Yet Periera, drawing from the experiences of an actual rural teacher, Fortunato Ramos, stands the old "Corn Is Green" plot on its head with the utmost subtlety and irony.

It's not that the film is anti-intellectual but rather that Periera reminds us that there are no guarantees that go with education--that civility is no protection in a world not as civilized as it ought to be. "Veronico Cruz," in fact, leaves us with the feeling that the eternal promise of renewal, as embodied in childbirth, is our only sure hope and consolation.

Gradually, the teacher gains the confidence of a tiny community, inhabited by descendants of the ancient Incans, in a high mountain desert of the Andes in the far northwestern corner of Argentina. Little Veronico Cruz's grandmother (Ana Maria Gonzales) is at first resistant to letting him be educated, citing that education for his father merely meant training him to work in faraway cane fields. The teacher explains that his shining purpose is to educate the community's children not merely to work for others but to think for themselves, to prepare them for "greater opportunities." As it happens, however, the education of Veronico Cruz commences in the era of Argentina's military dictatorship and culminates with the Falklands War.

"Veronico Cruz" (Times-rated Mature) opens with a long sequence of near-wordless pure cinema in which we witness Veronico's mother die in childbirth and his father giving him up to his grandmother to raise. It retains its strong visual quality even as some spare, occasionally humorous dialogue develops. The stark, sweeping grandeur of the austere locales (photographed by Gerry Feeny ) is underlined by Jaime Torres' evocative score, performed on original Andean instruments, and augmented by David Eppel's electronic music. The film's rich sights and sounds are balanced by splendidly understated acting--Camero being the only professional in the cast. A particular pleasure is Don Leopoldo Aban as the amusing, philosophical village elder.

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