During El Salvador’s 1980 - 1992 civil war, a group of guerilla fighters lived in a remote mountain region called Cinquera, where they had to hide in bat-infested caves and just pray that a child’s cry wouldn’t blow their cover. If it did, they might get maimed, raped, or killed off by the United States-backed Salvadorian military. The Tiniest Place tells the story of those who survived, as Salvadorian-born and Mexican-raised filmmaker Tatiana Huerzo transforms collective trauma into chilling poetry.
The talking-heads-cum-disembodied-voices approach recalls The Mouth of the Wolf, but Huerzo’s main character is the suffering that links the people and etches the history of a nation onto its land, not the people themselves, all of whom remain nameless for most of the film. They returned to Cinquera to build a community on top of the bones of their own kin, the frogs and toads that remained after the bloodshed. But if nowadays they can sip their coffee, make art and buy fresh eggs at the market in peace, the gunfire can still be heard, replaying ad nauseam in their heads.
Huerzo is only worried about providing historical-political context through mood and inference, not rhetorical explanation. She lets the voices speak for themselves, sometimes for too long, aligning them to either images of their community’s present-day joy or the psychodrama-like revisiting of places they used to hide in unspeakable dread. One of these voices provides with the perfect metaphor for defining “subversion,” saying that it’s the picture of an upside-down chair followed by an invitation to sit down.
Going back to the scene of trauma is a familiar Latin American strategy for dealing with its wars and dictatorships through art, but The Tiniest Place takes a disturbingly literal approach to such wound-scratching homecoming. It has an ethereal quality that evokes The Thin Red Line, summoning terror through serenity. It’s also a rather urgent film that echoes the ferocity of the London looters, the hunger-striking teenage demonstrators of Chile, the austerity picketers in Greece, and the “Arab spring” rebels, reminding us that revolutions can be cooked up with the raw fierceness of subversion alone, without trendy seasonal taxonomy or digital technology assistance.