Watch Ballad of the Little Soldier
- 44 min
The movie Ballad of the Little Soldier from 1984, directed by the acclaimed Werner Herzog, may be one of the most emotionally-charged and thought-provoking films about children at war ever made. It tells the story of two young boys, ten-year-olds Denis Reichle and Bruno Atman, who have been recruited as guerrilla fighters in Nicaragua's Sandinista Revolution, and are fighting against the U.S.-backed Contras.
The film begins with Herzog describing the children as "little soldiers created by adults, born into a war they cannot understand." This sentiment perfectly captures the essence of the film, which explores the complexity of children at war, the political machinations that lead to their participation, and the tragic consequences of adult neglect and manipulation.
Despite their youth, Denis and Bruno are serious about their mission as soldiers. They have been taught to use guns, hand grenades and anti-personnel mines, and have been told that they are fighting for the betterment of their country. They have not seen their families in months, and are living in makeshift camps, exposed to the elements and the dangers of the jungle.
As the film progresses, we see the impact of war on the children's psyche. Denis, in particular, is introspective and contemplative, and he is often caught on camera staring blankly into the distance as if trying to make sense of everything that is happening around him. In one powerful scene, he confesses to Herzog that he cannot sleep because he is haunted by the cries of a man he killed in the jungle.
Herzog does an excellent job of illustrating the contradictions and complexities of the Sandinista Revolution. While on the surface, the rebels are fighting against the Contras, who are trying to topple the socialist government, the film suggests a more profound struggle for power, where the children are mere pawns in a larger geopolitical game. However, while it would have been easy to make this film purely political, Herzog keeps the focus on the children and their experiences.
One of the most moving aspects of the movie is the relationship between Denis and Bruno. Denis is the more reflective of the two, and we see him trying to help Bruno cope with the harsh realities of their situation. Bruno, on the other hand, is more impulsive and prone to outbursts of anger, a result of the trauma he has experienced. Through their friendship, we see the deep connection that can form between children who have endured traumatic experiences together.
The film is shot in Herzog's signature style, with sweeping panoramic shots of the jungle, interspersed with intimate close-ups of the children's faces. The contrast between the vastness of the landscape and the smallness of the children serves to reinforce the idea that these are minors thrust into a dangerous and deadly world.
The stunning cinematography is complemented by the haunting soundtrack, which is a mix of classical music and traditional Central American folk tunes. The music, like the film itself, is emotive and evocative, underscoring the emotional weight of the story.
Ballad of the Little Soldier is not an easy film to watch. It is a powerful reminder of the terrible cost of war and the impact it has on children. However, it is also a beautiful, honest and deeply moving portrayal of the resilience of the human spirit. Herzog has created a film that is both a lamentation and a celebration, a tribute to the children whose lives were forever changed by the unrest in Nicaragua.
In conclusion, Ballad of the Little Soldier is an exceptional film, a testament to Werner Herzog's talent as a filmmaker and storyteller. Its story of child soldiers is as relevant today as it was when the film was first released, and it is a must-watch for anyone interested in the human cost of war.
Ballad of the Little Soldier is a 1984 documentary with a runtime of 44 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 7.2.