After “Waltz With Bashir,” the animated docu genre has another impressive entry in “Little Voices,” which recounts the true stories of four Colombian kids displaced by the country’s ongoing armed conflict. Scribe-helmers Jairo Eduardo Carrillo and Oscar Andrade combine audio interviews with the children with visuals inspired by drawings from the tykes themselves. The impressively told and mounted film has a narrative sincerity and simplicity that only children could pull off — though the material is more appropriate for adults. Pic has prestige-item potential for boutique distribs but will need strong critical support to make its voice heard.
The 73-minute feature expands on Carrillo’s eponymous short from 2003, which worked in much the same way. For the feature version, Carrillo and Andrade follow the childhood stories of four unnamed protags, three boys and a girl, between the ages of 9 and 12. Their experiences did not intersect in real life (they happened in different parts of Colombia), but here have been placed alongside one another, as if they all lived in the same area, further consolidating the film’s already compact structure.
The interviews that provided the audio footage (and initial drawings) were made over a period of a year and then edited and transformed into the v.o., which constantly switches between the four kids. The young protags talk about their daily lives in the Colombian countryside, their confrontation with armed men from the guerrilla forces and the army and, finally, their forced move to the capital, Bogota. (At least a million people, mostly women and children, have been displaced by the conflict, which started in the 1960s.)
Initial scenes perhaps slightly exaggerate the childhood happiness of the characters, with kids and parents equally playful, prone to pranks and constantly giggling. But “Little Voices” quickly grows darker as the young’uns are exposed to the violence and intimidation from the warring factions. Much to its credit, the pic never really takes sides, and one of the kids rather profoundly remarks that any armed person is bound to cause feelings of terror, whether intentionally or not.
One of the four children is recruited by the guerrillas, and his experiences in their grueling training camp, from which it is almost impossible to escape, are impressively handled, with a cut to an entirely red screen at its most intense moment. Another kid loses an arm as a result of a flying “object” that exploded in the garden of his home. Like “Bashir,” the material is not exactly suitable for kids, with the added irony here that its subjects are real children.
Rather uniquely, the animated characters don’t ever speak, though the voiceovers of the four children recounting their memories are heard throughout, and guide the narrative, and the characters do grumble, growl and giggle. Because the visuals perfectly illustrate the narration, and the top-drawer musical score and soundscape add further audio cues, pic flows like any other animated film, and both editing and sound mixing are impressive.
The visuals are a unique collage of styles that combine the children’s own drawings with childlike 2D drawings, often rendered in multiple layers, and more advanced CGI techniques. Cameralike movements such as “handheld” shots are used to intensify the action at appropriate moments.
The four protags and their close family members are rendered with bold, black outlines, while secondary characters such as soldiers and cows remain their pencil-drawn and -colored selves. Arm and leg movements are often deliberately jerky.
For the record, the pic opens with a three-minute explanation, delivered oncamera by the directors and crew, about how it was assembled, but this could be omitted. Feature’s working title was “Born Under Fire.”