Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 468
The narrator announces the screening of a foreign art film at a festival. The film challenges the audience in several ways; it is shot in black and white, with unpredictable light values, so that it often appears as a negative. Shades of gray are rarely used, and the narrator speculates that in the tropical country where the film was made, everything is vibrantly colored so that “even vanilla ice cream is robin’s-egg blue.” Black, white, and especially gray are colors that the narrator apparently associates with the West, industrialized Europe and the United States.
The film’s “only acknowledged influence” is an obscure poem by Victor Guzman, “the late surrealist dentist of Chilpancingo” in Mexico. Guzman’s poem “Laughing Gas” has given the director his inspiration for its one source of color, that of tongues. Eventually, the narrator says, the screen becomes “nearly technicolor with tongues.”
Although the narrator describes the violent film—which tells of a failed guerrilla revolt against an oppressive military regime aided by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)—in some detail, it apparently has no plot. The most lurid moment of violence concerns the tearing out of the prisoners’ tongues when they refuse to talk. The tongues, which bleed in various colors, are kept in a coffee can on the brutal colonel’s desk. A young private vomits as he buries the can the next morning, and then the sound diminishes until it is reduced to the noise of the projector. Then fragmented subtitles race past, followed by freeze-frames of photos of the poor and of tourists, then shots of churches and universities with occasionally legible subtitles flashing political messages, such as “Where there is no freedom words fill the mouth with blood.” Following what seems to be blurred documentary footage of violent scenes, during which the metallic background noise increases to a screech, the film apparently ends with another subtitle: “Even the hanged have no tongues to protrude!”
As the lights then go on, the stunned audience reacts in various ways, many applauding as if they have seen live theater. The narrator then predicts the critical reaction to the film, which is generally favorable but clichéd: “Uncompromisingly powerful, it demands to be seen” (from The Village Voice). The audience leaves as a final image appears on the screen behind them, “of an indigo tongue working at a husk of popcorn stuck in a gold-capped molar.” In effect, the audience is presented with an “inside” image of a member of the audience doing something banal, despite the horror he or she has just witnessed. The film’s credits list the actors, writers, director, and others, expanding to include the soldiers, students, and peasants actually involved in the world of the oppressive regime, the audience, and even “the myriad names of the dead.”
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