“Aquel No Era Yo (That Was Not Me),” written and directed by Esteban Crespo, is set in sub-Saharan Africa. Two Spanish volunteer doctors, Paula (Alejandra Lorente), and Juanjo (Gustavo Salmerón), with their African driver, set off into the countryside where they are intercepted by a self-styled “general” of a rebel army, together with his band of heavily armed child-soldiers.
The two doctors are charged as “white spies’” and taken as prisoners. The children soldiers regard their adult leader as a father, and they are taught to kill, and kill without mercy.
When government forces suddenly fly in helicopters and truckloads of army soldiers, chaos ensues. A swift turn of events finds Paula, the female doctor, taking with her one of the boy soldiers (Kaney) initially to kill him, and later to get him out.
A shift of scene brings us to a lecture hall of a university, where the speaker is an African teenager from Sierra Leone, speaking about his experience as a child-soldier in his native country.
Is he Kaney? We have no way of knowing. But among the audience is Paula, smiling through her tears. The speaker’s message is heart-wrenching: “Being a soldier is not difficult: Either you get used to it or they kill you. The hardest thing is getting used to living with your memories and being yourself again after doing what you have done.”
The phrase “That was not me,” might have been spoken by Kanye, when he later realizes the horror of what he had done. It might as well be the words of Paula, too, when she remembers holding the pistol to Kanye’s temples, ready to pull the trigger.
The movie reminds us of the harsh and violent realities of sub-Saharan Africa, where egoistic warlords rule, and rule absolutely; and where boys as young as eight years old are taught to kill. It demonstrates the things that we are capable of doing under extreme circumstances.
However, the film also reveals that in parts of this world where fear and terror rein, there is always room for hope, forgiveness, and redemption.
The short film, which was first shown in Madrid in 2012, became the centerpiece of Spanish events, among them the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.
It won several awards, the latest of which was the most prestigious Spanish Goya Award for Best Short Film for Fiction in February 2013.
Alice Sun Cua is a gynecologist, poet and essayist.