"Alsino and the Condor," now at the Inner Circle, is a communist allegorical groaner about a crippled peasant lad who finds a murky purpose in life by mingling with rural insurgents during the 1978 revolution in Nicaragua.
The director, Miguel Littin, is a Chilean exile who took up residence in Mexico a decade ago. He ran Chile's state film company during the Allende regime, and his 1975 Mexican feature "Letters from Marusia" was an Oscar nominee, which suggests that "Alsino" may have ended up bumping vastly more deserving entries like "Night of the Shooting Stars" and "Time Stands Still" because Littin already enjoyed a little partiality within the foreign language screening committee.
A structural derelict, "Alsino" appears to suffer esthetically from the effort to superimpose revolutionary jingoism onto the framework of a sentimental fable about a vagabond child.
Alsino, a dreamy and evidently unwary boy played by Alan Esquivel, lives with his grandmother in a mountain village in Nicaragua, shares some preliminary petting with a flirty friend named Lucia (Marta Lorena Perez) and can't resist the urge to jump from the treetops in emulation of the birds he adores. Before surrendering to this terrifying impulse, he becomes an object of bombastically paternal interest by an Ugly American, a military adviser named Frank who pilots a helicopter, rages at the incompetence of the local militia, represents the "Condor" of the title and is portrayed with painful hamminess by Dean Stockwell.
Frank takes Alsino up for a helicopter ride and boasts, "We fly better than the birds, don't we?" Down on the ground he goes on boasting to a colleague, "I bet he'll remember this all his life."
Well, it's difficult to miss the point that Frank is supposed to be an ignorant Yankee fathead, though not without an ineffectual streak of the well-meaning. The problem is that Alsino really ought to attach himself to this politically and culturally unsuitable protector if the movie is going to make any sense even on its own prejudicial terms.
However, Alsino's dream of flying has nothing to do with Frank, and when the child acts on his ignorance and ends up a twisted little hunchback after leaping from a tree, that calamity has nothing to do with Frank either. It's simply a heartbreaking example of childhood imaginative folly, lifted and grotesquely transplanted from a memorable character in "The Yearling."
Littin's style is scarcely a model of dialectical rigor and integrity. The jumbled continuity often invites confusion about who's fighting whom and where everybody is. Atrocity inserts come and go capriciously.
If you lack an emotional commitment to the present regime in Nicaragua, "Alsino" is bound to seem slightly intolerable; I'd like to think its feebleness presented problems to the committed, but I wouldn't bet on it. Stockwell's participation intrigues me more than any other aspect of the film. Obviously, his career has taken many unfortunate turns since the impressive days of "Compulsion" and "Long Day's Journey Into Night," but this is a dead-end and a half. The poignant thing is that there still appears to be a passionate actor inside that forlorn figure, struggling for a comeback in circumstances that seem to leave him even more stranded. ALSINO AND THE CONDOR
Directed by Miguel Littin, screenplay by Miguel Littin and Isadora Aguirre; edited by Miriam Talavera; produced for the Film Institute of Nicaragua; cinematography by Jorge Herrera and Pablo Martinez; This film is rated R and runs 89 minutes. THE CAST Alsino....Alan Esquivel Frank....Dean Stockwell