Pictures From a Revolution
1991 Directed by Susan Meiselas, Richard Rogers, Alfred Guzzetti.
REVIEWED By Chris Walters, Fri., July 24, 1992
Susan Meiselas risked her life photographing the Nicaraguan revolution of 1979. Her images were vivid, arresting; one picture of a young Sandinista hurling a Molotov cocktail was even adopted as a logo of sorts by both sides. Ten years of contra war and misery burned away the revolution's exultant afterglow but not its power over Meiselas' memory, so she and two colleagues went back to Nicaragua in search of the people in her photos, listening to their stories. Out of that experience, they made this movie, a heartbreaking essay on heroism repaid by years of bitter disappointment. Unblemished by special pleading, Pictures resonates with the desire for a better life that was frustrated by Nicaragua's strangled economy, courtesy of Ronald Reagan; of all nonfiction films about Nicaragua, it is the least didactic, the most open to history as it is known by those who made it. None of the people Meiselas meets are famous faces from the evening news -- most of them have no reason to lie -- and they speak with undeniable honesty about the sense of possibility they felt as they took down Somoza. (She does interview a couple of ex-contras, one of whom concludes that both sides were used by their sponsors.) Their problem, and Meiselas', is that they can't reconcile the violent glamour of the revolution with the death of all hope that followed it. “A Nicaragua which is exhausted, that is what we have now,” says one. Contrary to the drama in her photos, Meiselas finds “the same houses with dirt floors, the swollen bellies, nothing moving fast enough,” making her wonder whether the truth of a moment frozen in time matters very much next to the untidy facts of people living in time. Like the shot of a lush green embankment that reveals a pair of blue jeans with a spine growing out of them, Pictures shows how pain displaces beauty when people try to overturn the world's inequities and the world rolls over them. Beautifully shot and edited, it is never cynical and often bravely honest. “We lost the luxury of a dream,” Meiselas admits. “But the Nicaraguans lost much more.”