An American invasion of a foreign country. A battle for hearts and minds. A pacification programme to quell an insurgency. Guerrilla warfare. Firefights. Sound familiar? Well, yes and no. Über-indie American filmmaker John Sayles winds the clock back to 1900 and the US occupation of the Philippines in his brave new film, Amigo. Sayles finds many parallels behind this little-remembered event in history and current events in Iraq and Afghanistan. As always, this most singular of directors provides a clear, lucid and dramatically compelling portrait and analysis of American colonization and the latent imperialism behind some of its wars. The film revolves around the occupation by a squad of U.S. soldiers of a small, rural village. Headed by a respected elder, whom the Yankees refer to as “Amigo,” the villagers are forced to deal with this foreign presence as rules are set, curfews introduced and small attempts at democracy initiated. But the most significant tension in the film lies in the village’s relationship with a rebel group leading the resistance to the occupation. Amigo’s brother is the rebel leader, and his son runs off to join them, so he constantly finds himself torn between balancing what is right for the village and what this means to his family. The joys of the film are many. Determined to remain true to historic recreation, the film has the ring of authenticity. But Sayles also excels in giving complexity to the human dilemmas that form the core of the narrative. As Amigo struggles to make certain decisions, the US lieutenant in charge of the village has to deal with the insensitive arrogance of his commanding officer. While the junior officer tries to win hearts and minds, his superior prefers the heavy hand of threat and torture. As the film moves towards its climax, all the various strands of the story converge to provide a unique and telling culmination. Thoughtful and provocative, John Sayles is still the conscience of American cinema.
Piers Handling http://tiff.net/filmsandschedules/tiff/2010/amigo