In February 1984, Herzog met up with French journalist Denis Reichle in Nicaragua to delve into the status and the struggle for survival of the Misquitos tribe, who were using child soldiers to fight the Sandinistas.
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Ah... Herzog films, this little ballad of life and childhood represents the ready child, the fresh souls to train to fight the designated bad troops who killed their families. Call it career soldiering or what they have left in their circumstances of life, albeit young and trainable(brainwashable)... These children seem to get training, like deadly boy scouts, of course "comrades" would be the wrong word choice here.
the most striking part for me was Denis Reichle's intervention towards the end - a sobering dose of reality that cut through the hero-fighter mythology fed to the kids by the military trainer.
exposed them for what they really were, sacrifices.
Herzog's most journalistic doc, probably owing to the fact that it was a partnership with a journalist. The first two thirds are a swift, passionate, factual genealogy of how war spreads, but it's the last 15 minutes that are truly brilliant, paradoxical, and Herzogian: the sight of child soldiers, part caught in an endless cycle, part desiring to take an active role in it, and part still very much children.
Ballad of the Little Soldier is composed mostly of interviews and training exercises, not the harsh landscapes of Herzog's usual work, and this is part of what gives it its uneasy edge. There are no ready solutions for the Misquitos in the face of Sandinista oppression, and Herzog doesn't back away from the paradox of Indigenous liberation being tied up with the American-led anti-communist movement in Nicaragua.
A nauseating documentation of tragedy. There's a political angle at play, but I think Herzog was most interested in capturing the horror inflicted on the Miskito children by the Sandinistas and their own people. This is certainly a precursor to Joshua Oppenheimer's 2012 film, The Act of Killing, although Ballad... is more journalistic in its construction. The last couple shots are so potent.