Part One: Historical Films

Que viva Mexico!   Erendira Ikikunari
Retorno a Aztlan    La Carga

¡Que viva México!; Erendira Ikikunari; In Necuepaliztli in Aztlan; La carga

The Pre-Columbian Era
The Spanish Invasion
17th to 19th Centuries
The Revolution (1910-1919)
lousy Lame, lousy
lousy ok OK, worth watching
lousy ok good Good
lousy ok good very good Very Good
lousy ok good very good excellent Great, Classic


(Retorno a Aztlán)
Director/writer:Juan Mora Catlett
Cinematography:Toni Khun
Music:Antonio Zepeda
Year/length:1989. 94 minutes.
Setting:Tenochtitlan; Aztlan; 1468-72
Native Content:very high
Home Release:DVD (in Mexico)
Rating: lousy ok good very good excellent

When King Motecuzoma dies in 1468, a drought sets upon the Mexicas' land. After four years the Mexicas debate whether they should continue to worship the war god Huitzilopchtli or if they have neglected his mother, the forgotten goddess Coatlicue in Atzlán, the land of their ancestors. Motecuzoma the Younger sends a retinue of priests and soldiers on a journey back to Aztlán. Meanwhile, the peasant Ollin makes a parallel journey to Aztlán, because his son found part of the tribute to the goddess and he must return it out of humility. Each party--the royal delegation and the peasant Ollin--finds Something different in their quest and bring back conflicting reports of what happened. Retorno a Aztlán is a beautifully made film, full of mystery, a feast for the imagination. The DVD has a photo gallery, a 30-minute making-of feature, and subtitles in Spanish, English, and French.
Trailer with English subtitles: vimeo.com/36115672
Facebook page: facebook.com/retornoaaztlan

Sinopsis en español:
Película de ficción basada en los mitos náhuatl prehispánicos donde se narra el viaje mítico de un campesino para lograr que los dioses terminen con una sequía de cuatro años que asola la tierra. Sus encuentros con los dioses y su sacrificio por salvar a todos los seres vivos, son parte de la trama.
Trailer con subtitulos en español: vimeo.com/36101439

Kings of the Sun

Director:J. Lee Thompson
Writers:Elliott Arnold, James R. Webb
Cinematography:Joseph MacDonald
Music:Elmer Bernstein
Year/length:1963. 107 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Setting:Yucatan peninsula; North America, precolumbian times
Native Content:high
Home Release:DVD
Rating: lousy ok good

A Mayan kingdom is under attack from another Mayan kingdom, their neighbors in Chichen Itza, who wield metal swords. When our Mayans' king is killed, his son Balam decides to flee across the sea, defying the belief that they will sail over the edge of the earth. At the Yucatan shore the Mayans forcibly recruit a fishing village to provide boats and flee with them. They sail across the Gulf of Mexico to an unnamed land, where they settle and build a pyramid to their gods. They also encounter the local inhabitants, unnamed in the movie, who live in teepees and hunt buffalos. The Mayans capture their chief, Black Eagle (played by Yul Brunner), but against the priest's counsels, Balam decides not to sacrifice Black Eagle, and lets him go free. The two nations begin to live side-by-side and learn each other's customs. When the enemy from Mexico finally arrives, the Mayans and Black Eagle's people join forces to defeat them. Victorious, Balam gives his people the option of returning to their Mexican homeland or remaining at their new settlement, where human sacrifice will be banned. Thus do the Mayans become North Americans. Colorful sets and costumes highlight this improbable, ahistorical sword-and-sandal epic, and a lover's triangle between a fishing village girl, Balam, and Black Eagle fills out the Hollywood formula. The main actors are all ridiculously white, though most of the extras look Mexican or Indian.

Apocalypto DVD

Director:Mel Gibson
Writers:Mel Gibson, Farhad Safinia
Cinematography:Dean Semler
Music:James Horner
Year/length:2006. 139 minutes. Rated R.
Setting:Yucatan, early 1500s
Language:Yucatec Mayan
Native Content:very high
Home Release:DVD
Rating: very good

Jaguar Paw is the son of a tribal chief in the rainforests of southern Mexico. Their tribe is brutally attacked by the elite Mayans of the great cities and pyramids, who must feed their bloodthirsty gods. Jaguar Paw hides his wife and baby in a well, but is himself captured. Led up to a pyramid with his friends, Jaguar Paw is on the point of being sacrificed, but he escapes, and his frenetic flight from the soldiers to return to his family comprises the bulk of the action in this fast-paced adventure flick. Viewer advisory: this film contains excessive, gratuitous, disturbing gore and violence. Not for the squeamish. The film is spoken in a Yucatec dialect of Mayan, played mostly by indigenous actors from Mexico (but Rudy Youngblood, who plays Jaguar Paw, is Cherokee and one-fourth African).

The Captive God

Directors:William S. Hart (uncredited), Charles Swickard
Writer:Monte Katterjohn
Cinematography:Clyde de Vinna
Year/length:1916. 54 minutes.
Setting:Tehuantépec? 1510s?
Home Release:none. A print is owned by the George Eastman House.

In this silent film from the U.S., a Spanish child washes ashore in 16th-century Mexico. The boy is adopted by the Tehuans, who name him Chiapa and regard him as a god. When he is a man, they give him authority over the tribe. Chiapa falls in love with the priestess Tecolote. One day the Aztecs attack the Tehuan village and capture Tecolote. Chiapa follows them back to Aztec capital but is captured in turn. Lolomi, daughter of Montezuma, falls in love with him and rescues him. But the Aztec soldier Mexitli is in love with Lolomi, and obtains the emperor's consent to marry her. The emperor also condemns Chiapato death on the sacrificial stone. Lolomi sends word to the Tehuans that their god has been captured, and they storm into the Aztec capitol to rescue Chiapa. The film reportedly ends with "thrilling scenes and a smashing finish." The Captive God was praised for its elaborate, realistic stage sets that brought the Aztec world to life. The extras were played by Pueblo Indians. I haven't seen this film, since the only print exists at the George Eastman House film archive in Rochester, NY.

Possible plot goof: Tehuantépec is on the Pacific coast, so it doesn't seem likely that a white child could have washed ashore there in pre-conquest Mexico (Vasco Núñez de Balboa was the first European to reach the Pacific coast, in Panama in 1513; Cortez invaded Mexico in 1519). It would have made more sense to have the wash ashore on the Atlantic side, but perhaps the filmmakers weren't concerned about the historical details.

The Cast:
Dorothy Dalton - Tecolote
Herbert Farjean - Cacoma
William S. Hart - Chiapa
Bob Kortman - Tuyos
Enid Markey - Lolomi
Dorcas Matthews - Maya
Robert McKim - Montezuma
P.D. Tabler - Mexitli

Director:Íñigo de Martino
Writer:Íñigo de Martino, Adolfo Torres Portillo
Cinematography:Alex Phillips
Music:Raúl Lavista
Year/length:1955. 94 minutes.
Setting:Chichen Itza, 1519
Native Content:high
Home Release:DVD (Mexico, no subtitles)
Rating: lousy ok

The first half of the film shows life in the Mayan city of Chichen Itza before the conquest. The king Ah K'in Chel (Ignacio López Tarso) and the priest Chilam Balam (Carlos López Moctezuma) continue the practice of human sacrifice during the city's waning years. When plague comes to the city, the stars demand that Chilam Balam sacrifice his own daughter Naya (Lucy González). She is thrown into the cenote, but at the bottom of the well she finds an escape. Chilam Balam finds her and they flee to the coastal town of Tulum, near the island of Cozumel. There they live in a small hut until Ah K'in Chel and his army find them. As soldiers prepare to sacrifice Naya again, white-skinned invaders arrive on giant animals. The rest of the Mayans flee, leaving only Naya tied up in ropes. The soldier Francisco de Montejo releases her and they fall in love. This causes complications when the battle between the Mayans and Spanish resumes.

Chilam Balam was reportedly an expensive movie to make, but it doesn't show. The costumes are drab compared to the splendors shown in the archaeological record, and the acting and cinematography are lazy, leaving fallow the great dramatic potential of the story. And why did they film a historical epic like this in black and white in 1955? The director only made one more movie before disappearing from the industry. The image and sound quality on the DVD are not good.

The film was based on a 1942 play Conquista y fundación, by Carlos Buendía Lara, which was in turn based on the Chilam Balam, a Mayan almanac of history, astrology, medicine, prophecy and other lore written in Yucatec language in the 18th century, with some parts dating back to the time of the conquest. The title means "Jaguar Priest" and refers to one of the early authors of the book. A translation of the extant manuscripts can be found at http://www.mayaweb.nl/mayaweb/chilam.pdf

Sinopsis en español:
Melodrama con ambiciones de epopeya histórica que narra cómo, a principios del siglo XVI, los mayas en plena decadencia son vencidos por los conquistadores españoles y Naya, la joven hija del adivino Chilam Balam, termina uniéndose al hijo del español Montejo con lo que se funda una nueva raza. En esta aparatosa producción -la poderosa empresa CLASA invirtió en el proyecto lo que para entonces era una fortuna: 350 mil pesos sólo en escenografía y un vestuario notoriamente incómodo- todo sin remedio, parece inerte y acartonado. El director debutante Iñigo de Martino, ofreció aquí tales pruebas de ineficacia que su carrera terminaría dos años después con una película más. López Tarso, muy joven aún, hubo de caracterizarse al estilo teatral con barbas y peluca postizos, para desempeñar el papel del viejo sabio del pueblo.

IGNACIO LÓPEZ TARSO: El Ah'Kin Chel fue un personaje que sí me interesó, era un coestelar, con la compañía más importante de cine que había en México y además, casi todas mis escenas eran con López Moctezuma ¡imagínate! Desde la primera entrevista el Licenciado Orive Alba, que era el gerente de la compañía, me trató de maravilla, como si fuera la estrella; luego la gran producción, las pruebas de vestuario, las semanas en Yuacatán, estaba yo impresionadísimo, y pensé que era una gran oportunidad y un reto difícil porque había que caracterizar -y todo el inicio de mi carrera fue así, de lo que los actores españoles llamaban el barba de la compañía- a un anciano. Llego a Yucatán y me encuentro con Jambrina, con Baviera, puros nombres grandes y gran pantalla para mí de modo que empecé nervioso y emocionado. Me presento al llamado ya vestido y maquillado pensando en mi poca experiencia en cine, pero López Moctezuma fue tan gentil, tan amable conmigo -como a las once de la mañana sacó un tequila y brindamos por la película y por que me fuera bien- que me sentí ya mucho más seguro. El trabajo fue muy pesado, horas y horas con un calor espantoso, subiendo y bajando escalinatas con aquellos penachos gigantescos ... El director era un hombre muy culto, que sabía mucho de historia, de arqueología, pero la producción se le fue de las manos, todos acabamos actuando de una manera muy rígida por lo ceremonioso del asunto. La película quedó muy lenta y aburrida y la verdad, no le gustó a nadie.

Entre la luz y las tinieblas
(Sons of the Wind:
Between light and darkness)
Director:José Miguel Juárez
Music:Pablo Arellano
Year/length:2000. 93 minutes.
Setting:Tenochtitlan, 1519
Native Content:medium-high
Home Release:DVD-PAL (Europe, no subtitles)
Rating: lousy ok good

Two shipwrecked Spaniards are captured by the Aztecs, but when their temporary escape coincides with a shooting star, the Aztecs take the blond newcomers for gods. Rodrigo falls in love with Tizcuitl (Úrsula Murayama), daughter of an important personage of the Aztec royal court. The Spaniards befriend Moctezuma and attempt to establish an alliance before Hernan Cortez arrives with the Spanish army. But war is inevitable, and the Aztec defeat is portrayed with pathos. The film is basically a throwback to old-fasioned sword-and-sandal epics, with mostly white actors playing all the major roles. Still, there are great sets and costumes, and suspenseful battles, making this Spain-Mexico coproduction a decent entertainment.

Sinopsis en español:
En el marco de la conquista de México por los españoles, Rodrigo, un náufrago español se enamora de Tizcuitl, la joven y bella azteca hija de Nezuhual, rey de Tlacopan, poderoso súbdito del emperador Moctezuma. Ellos viven una historia de amor en un momento histórico donde el fundamentalismo prevalecía sobre los sentimientos individuales.

Erendira, la indomable DVD

(Eréndira la indomable)
(Erendira the Untamable)
Director/writer:Juan Mora Catlett
Cinematography:Toni Kuhn
Music:Andres Sanchez
Year/length:2007. 117 minutes.
Setting:Michoacán, 1520s
Language:Purépecha; some Spanish
Native Content:high
Home Release:DVD
Rating: lousy ok good very good excellent
The Purepecha people of Michoacan hear rumors of strange New Gods who ride giant deer and have defeated the Aztecs, the Purepechas' enemies to the north. Their young and inexperienced leader Tangáxoan sends the warrior Cuynierangari to learn about the New gods. When an old woman prophesizes that they must destroy the Old Gods and surrender to the New Gods, Tangaxoan's right-hand man advises him to drown himself in Lake Pátzcuaro. When the young man is about to jump in the lake, Cuynierangari returns, bearing news that the New Gods do not want to battle the Purepecha; they only want gold and food. Debate ensues about whether to fight the strangers or give them gold, and the split eventually widens into a civil war. But one girl, Erendira (Xochiquetzal Rodríguez), reluctantly engaged to Nanuma, one of Tangaxoan's soldiers, captures one of the giant deer--a horse--and wants to ride into battle against the enemy. Nanuma, embarassed at having such a strong-willed fiancee, defects to the other side, dragging along his little brother Tsihue (Luis Esteban Huacuz Dimas), who is secretly in love with Erendira. In the end only Erendira, her aged uncle Timas, and the Purepecha women and children are willing to stand up against the invaders.

This film is a visual feast for those who like the bizarre and exotic. It is also unusual in two other ways: First, whereas many films about early contact between Europeans and Native Americans stress the strangeness of the Indians, this film stresses the strangeness of the Europeans. Second, and more radically, this film portrays the men as somewhat cowardly and the women as the brave ones who want to protect their home and children. In fact, most of the men come off as buffoons in this film, and Erendira is truly one of the most unique and memorable heroines, powerfully played by Xochiquetzal Rodríguez.

Erendira Ikikunari is based on a Michoacán legend with very few written sources. Director Juan Mora Catlett first learned of the story from the painting La historia de Michoacán, by Juan O'Gorman, in the Gertrudis Bocanegra Library in Pátzcuaro. Erendira can be seen on horseback on the left side of the mural. For a wider view of the entire mural, click here.

Sinopsis en español:
Durante la conquista de México en el siglo XVI, los oráculos previnieron a Tangaxoan, joven Señor Indígena de Michoacán, de la llegada inminente de intrusos cubiertos de metal, con fama de Dioses invencibles, portadores de la destrucción y la muerte. Mientras tanto, la joven indígena Eréndira se preparaba para su boda con un hombre al que no amaba: el gran guerrero Nanuma. T'shue, hermano menor de Nanuma, fungía como chaperón mientras ocultaba su amor por Eréndira. Cuando llegaron los intrusos, el Señor Tangaxoan se escondió aterrado. Los invasores intentaron apoderarse de su tesoro pero las Concubinas reales lo impidieron, apaleándolos. Al ver Eréndira la cobardía de Nanuma ante los intrusos, se rehusó a casarse con él. El Señor Tangaxoan pactó una alianza con los invasores para salvar su reinado. El gran guerrero Timas, Tío de Eréndira, no aceptó la decisión y se refugió en una fortaleza en ruinas, junto con otros nobles rebeldes, para combatir a los intrusos. Nanuma se les unió, actuando en secreto como espía de Tangaxoan. Ante el ejemplo de la fiereza de las mujeres y el miedo de los guerreros, Eréndira se unió a la resistencia. Tangaxoan ordenó que Timas y los rebeldes fueran muertos por un ejército indígena, acompañado por tres jinetes de los invasores. Los hombres de Tangaxoan asediaron la fortaleza en ruinas y Eréndira participó en la batalla fratricida. Cuando el ejército de Tangaxoan fue derrotado, Eréndira se apoderó de un caballo en el desorden siguiente, pero al ser descubierta, Nanuma le quitó el animal para sacrificarlo. Eréndira logró recuperar el caballo, gracias a Timas, y aprendió sola a montarlo, asombrando a Timas y a los nobles rebeldes. A pesar de la indignación de Nanuma por la conducta "poco femenina" de Eréndira, Timas la perdonó y le permitió conservar el caballo, prohibiéndole volver a participar en la guerra. Nanuma huyó para unirse al ejercito enviado por Tangaxoan. T'shue lo acompañó. Cuando la fortaleza fue atacada de nuevo, Timas fue muerto, y cuando los rebeldes estaban a punto de ser vencidos, Eréndira apareció a caballo, sembrando el desconcierto entre los enemigos. Pues al ser una amazona algo inconcebible para ellos, creyeron que se trataba de una diosa que, con su increíble presencia, logró impedir la masacre de mujeres, niños y ancianos. Tras la partida del ejército de Tangaxoan, Eréndira buscó el cadáver de Timas en el campo de batalla, para celebrarle un rito funerario. Nanuma la siguió vengativo y la flechó a traición. T'shue, que le acompañaba, en un arranque de ira y celos mató a su hermano. Después trató de auxiliar a Eréndira, pero para su gran sorpresa ella había desaparecido.

Detail of Juan O'Gorman's La historia de Michoacán.

Director:Nicolás Echevarría
Writer:Nicolás Echevarría, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, Xavier Robles, Guillermo Sheridan
Cinematography:Guillermo Navarro
Music:Mario Lavista
Year/length:1991. 111 minutes. Rated R.
Setting:Gulf of Mexico, Florida, Texas, Mexico, 1528-1536
Language:Spanish; faked indigenous languages
Native Content:high
Home Release:DVD (out of print)
Rating: lousy ok good very good

The bizarre and disturbing true story of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (played by Juan Diego), the treasurer on a Spanish expedition that was shipwrecked off the coast of Texas in 1528. The few survivors were ambushed by the Karankawa Indians. Alvar was then separated from his companions and became a slave to a chaman and an armless midget. They taught him their healing arts for some unfathomable reason, and once he learned to heal people, they set him free. With his new powers Alvar was able to gain the respect of other Indians, and lived with Coahuiltecan Indians farther inland for several years. One particular friend was the young Araino (played by Roberto Sosa), whom he had saved from an arrow wound. Alvar spent eight years in the Americas altogether, and eventually reunited with Spanish soldiers. He recorded his adventures in the book Naufragios (Shipwrecks), published in 1555 and available in many modern translations. This film is based on the middle section of the book, though it isn't entirely accurate. The indigenous languages spoken throughout are simply made-up words, and the costumes were based on the engravings in Theodore de Bry's The Great Voyages (1590-1634) which was in turn a hodge-podge of different native cultures mixed together indiscriminately. Despite the inaccuracies, the film is powerful and unforgettable. For a different point of view, see Laila Lalami's excellent 2014 novel The Moor's Account, which tells the story of Estéban, the Moroccan slave who was one of the four survivors. For more films about Europeans stranded the Americas, check out Jerico (Venezuela) and Hans Staden (Brazil). [Note: Guillermo del Toro was the makeup artist on this film before he became famous as a director.]

Sinopsis en español:
En 1528, durante los primeros años de la conquista española, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, tesorero de Carlos I de España, se embarca en la expedición de Pánfilo de Narváez a Florida. La expedición naufraga en las costas de Louisiana. Alvar es hecho prisionero y convertido en esclavo. Después de sufrir todo tipo de humillaciones es dejado en libertad. Se reencuentra con cuatro compañeros y juntos emprenden un viaje de cuatro años que culminará en lo que hoy es el territorio de Sinaloa. Inspirado en el libro Naufragios, de Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.

(The Other Conquest)
Director/writer:Salvador Carrasco
Cinematography:Arturo de la Rosa
Music:Samuel Zyman
Year/length:1999. 105 minutes. Rated R.
Setting:Tenochtitlan, 1520s-30s
Language:Spanish, Nahuatl
Native Content:high
Home Release:DVD
Rating: lousy ok good very good

Topiltzin (compellingly played by Damián Delgado), the illegitimate son of Moctezuma, is one of the few survivors of Hernan Cortez's invasion. An earnest priest makes it his personal mission to convert the recalcitrant Topiltzin, renaming him Tomas. Topiltzin's half-sister Tecuichpo (Elpidia Carrillo) plays along with the Europeans, learning Spanish and accepting Cortez as her conquering groom, but Topiltzin resists, enduring torture and brainwashing to preserve his own faith and identity, and he secretly prays to his old gods. This is one of the most popular films in Mexican history, and was nominated for six Ariel Awards (won for Best Makeup). Damian Delgado is spectacular, as he was in Men with Guns (Guatemala), and Elpidia Carrillo is also excellent. Her other Indian roles are in La hija del puma (Guatemala) and Nuevo Mundo (below).

Sinopsis en español:
México Tenochtitlán, mayo de 1520. Oculto bajo un cadáver en medio de la lluvia, topiltzin, hijo natural de Moctezuma logrosobrevivir a la masacre del templo mayor. Al despertar de entre los muertos topiltzin descubre a su madre muerta, los españoles al poder y un nuevo mundodiferente a como lo conocía. Topiltzin y su hermana doña Isabel luchan por preservar su forma de vida y creencias ya que Cortés quería convertir a lossobrevivientes al cristianismo. Topiltzin terminó por creer en la Virgen María, buscando su propio camino hasta la “gran señora de piel blanca”; otro camino, no elde adorar en secreto a los dioses muertos, ni el que le dictaban los religiosos, los nuevos señores extranjeros. Lo simboliza la escena final, donde elprotagonista le quita la corona a la imagen de la Virgen y se arroja al vacío, abrazado a ella y vestido a la antigua. La otra conquista se refiere a laconquista espiritual por parte de los españoles, la película narra la imposición de la nueva cultura y religión a las costumbres de su pueblo y de su raza.


(La que tiene hambre)
(The Hungry Woman)
Director/writer:R. Pavel Rodríguez Guillén
Cinematography:Jairo Torres
Year/length:2010. 37 minutes.
Setting:Michoacán, 1530
Language:Purepecha; some Spanish
Native Content:high
Home Release:none
Rating: lousy ok good

Michoacán, year 1530. Tsipa and Hopotaku are a young P'urhepecha couple with a newborn child. Spanish soldiers break into their house looking for objects of blasphemy. Later, two friars visit them trying to convert them. Amid all these disturbing events, a mysterious cloaked woman comes to their home begging for food. They suspect it is the Auikanime, the legendary creature who long ago lost her own newborn child and now wanders the earth attempting to steal the babies of others. This film is surprisingly similar to Erendira Ikikunari: with similar setting, costumes, and face paint. Pavel Rodríguez has made other short films on Purepecha subjects--Xankuchka Ia (2008) and Kurita Kaheri (2005), and Tarhiata Tsakapancha (1999)--all listed under Mexico's cortometrajes.

Sinopsis en español:
Michoacán año de 1530, los españoles buscan apoderarse del señorío P’urhepecha fingiendo amistad con el rey Tanganxoan Tsintsincha. Los frailes franciscanos sin éxito tratan de evangelizar a la población. Hopótaku y Tsïpa, joven pareja que vive para su recién nacido hijo, sospechan que las intenciones de los extranjeros no son nada buenas y más cuando ellos mismos han sido victimas de los maltratos de aquellos. La aparición de Auikanime, ser mitológico que se presenta como una anciana pordiosera, anuncia el nefasto destino de estas tierras. Ella pide algo a cambio y elije a Hopótaku y Tsïpa para reclamar su pago. Auikanime les demandará lo más preciado de sus vidas y ellos deberán escoger entre respetar sus antiguas creencias o buscar el amparo de la nueva fe. Cualquier decisión que tomen cambiara para siempre sus vidas. Auikanime La que tiene hambre es un cortometraje que muestra la creencia antigua antes de la llegada de la tradición europea, en un ser mitológico parecido a “La Llorona” pero con características que nos remontan a los orígenes del pensamiento mesoamericano. Elenco: Itzi Carrillo, Amaruc Lucas Hernández, Blanca Santos, Copérnico Vega.

La virgen morena DVD

(The Brown Virgin)
Director:Gabriel Soria
Writers: Father Carlos M. Heredia (plot), Alberto Santander (dialog), Clear A. Corona Blake
Cinematography:Agustín Martínez Solares
Music:Julian Carillo, Jorge Perez
Year/length:1942. 95 minutes.
Setting:Tepeyac, 1531
Native Content:high
Home Release:DVD (no subtitles)
Rating: lousy ok

Besides telling the familiar story of Juan Diego (José Luis Jiménez) and the apparition of the Virgin, this film tells a parallel story: the Aztec prince Temoch (Abel Salazar) captures Blanca, daughter of the viceroy, in order to forstall further attacks on his people. Blanca is treated well at Temoch's palace and learns to appreciate Aztec culture. The two stories converge when the Virgen of Guadalupe heals Bernardino, Juan Diego's uncle, whom Temoch had wounded with an arrow because of his conversion to Christianity. Bernardino shows his miraculous cure to the bishop, and Temoch is summoned to testify to that he had indeed wounded him. Juan Diego then arrives with the flowers created by Guadalupe and the image of the Virgen emblazoned on his pancho, to which everyone, even Temoch, kneels. Thus the film presents the miracle of Guadalupe as an act of peace between whites and Indians--but only after the Spanish have massacred what remained of Temoch's people. Abel Salazar's wooden acting and the phony sets make this movie sometimes laughably bad, but, as the earliest in-print film about the conquista, it is definitely worth checking out.

(New World)
Director:Gabriel Retes
Writer:Pedro F. Miret
Cinematography:Daniel López
Music:Raúl Lavista
Year/length:1978. 91 minutes.
Setting:Mexico, 1500s?
Language:Spanish, Náhuatl
Native Content:medium
Home Release:DVD (Mexico, no English subtitles)
Rating: lousy ok good

A friar traveling with soldiers stops by an hacienda to ask for help in repairing his wagon. While the owner, Diego, is showing Fray Pedro around, one of the soldiers rapes an indigenous woman (Elpida Carrillo), who turns out to be Diego's wife. Diego attacks the soldier, and the wife stabs him. Diego admits that the indigenous workers are planning a revolt, and the authorities arrest Diego and sieze control of the hacienda. The friars interrogate the natives using the brutal methods of the Inquisition, and Diego dies when he sees his wife being tortured naked. Temporarily subdued, the natives pretend to be happily converted, but they hide their own idols behind the Catholic statues in the altars of the church in order to honor their own religion clandestinely. When Fray Pedro discovers the pagan idols in the church, he realizes his efforts at conversion have failed and he devises a clever plan. He asks the local indigenous artist Manuel (Juan Angel Martinez) to paint a brown-skinned Virgin Mary to appeal to the natives, and when the painting is brought into the church, he interprets the "apparition" as a sign that the Spanish and natives should live in peace. Nuevo Mundo is therefore a secular (some might say cynical) retelling of the Guadalupe myth, though the film never actually mentions the Virgen of Guadalupe, and gives no clues about the story's time and place. The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared in Tepeyac in 1531, but the hacienda seems too advanced for that time, less than 20 years after the Spanish invasion. Perhaps the filmmakers kept the details vague in order to make the story less vulnerable to charges of blasphemy. Nevertheless the film was banned by the government for 20 years. Note to non-Spanish speakers: the DVD does not have English subtitles. There is quite a bit of Nahuatl spoken in the film, but Spanish subtitles for the Nahuatl are provided in only two scenes.

Sinopsis en español:
La historia de un ícono religioso creado por un artista y usado por los españoles como arma de conquista. Los españoles se enfrentan con la evangelización de los indígenas, los cuales son en sí mismos sumamente religiosos y no aceptan la cristinanidad. son sometidos a la Santa Inquisisión. Fray Pedro le ordena a un indígena pintor crear una Virgen que hermane a los españoles con ellos y así controlar la subvelación y masacre de indígenas. Fray Pedro, el pintor y la modelo son asesinados y el lienzo es presentado como un milagro que evita la insurrección de los indígenas.

(The Load)
Director:Alan Jonsson Gavica
Writers:Alan Jonsson Gavica
Arturo Ruiz
Cinematography:Emiliano Chaparro
Music:Leoncio Lara
Length:94 minutes
Setting:various unnamed parts of Mexico,
Language:Spanish, Nahuatl
Native Content:high
Home Release:Amazon
Rating: very good

Francisco Tenamaztle, leader of the Caxcan people, has been captured following his uprising against the Spanish. The Franciscan priests believe Tenamaztle was only defending his people against the abuses of the Spanish rulers. The priests arrange to have him extradited to Spain for trial instead of facing the local authorities, who would deny their wrongdoing. Elisa, a young noblewoman, is willing to testify against her father, a mine owner, in defense of Tenamaztle. The priests hire two tamemes, delivery men, to bring Elisa from inland Mexico to the coast (the movie is vague about geographic details) to set out for Spain. The two tamemes, Painalli and Coyolli, are pursued by the mine owner and his team, as well as by Painalli's own brother Itzmin, who resents Painalli for marrying the girl he wanted. La Carga is a tale of pursuit, suspense, betrayal, and justice from the director of Morenita, el escándalo (2008). About a third of the film is in Nahuatl.

Sinopsis en español:
El drama se sitúa en el año 1547, cuando México era todavía una colonia del Imperio Español. Horacio García Rojas dará vida a Painalli, un indígena tameme dedicado a la carga de tributos, mercancías o personas, que arriesgará su vida al verse envuelto en una conspiración de caciques españoles. María Valverde interpretará a Elisa, una española que será la carga de los indígenas, la prueba de estos para testificar en contra de los caciques.


Tenoch Huerta as Francisco Tenamaztle

Horacio Garcia Rojas as the temame Painalli

Harold Torres as Coyolli

Gerardo Taracena as Painalli's brother Itzmin

María Valverde as Elisa, in Painalli's village

Norma Reyna as Citlali; Antonio Ortega Guerrero as Ollin

17th to 19th CENTURY:

(Kino, The Legend of the Black Priest)
Director:Felipe Cazals
Writers:Felipe Cazals, Gerardo de la Torre, Tomás Pérez Turrent
Cinematography:Ángel Goded
Music:Amparo Rubín
Year/length:1993. 109 minutes.
Setting:Pimeria Alta, Sonora, Baja California, 1681-1711
Language:Spanish, some Italian
Native Content:low
Home Release:DVD
Rating: lousy ok

Based on the life of Eusebio Francisco Kino, an Italian priest trained in astronomy and cartography who was hired to accompany a mission to New Spain to create maps of unexplored territories. Padre Kino clashes with Spanish soldiers and church authorities as he opposes slavery and corporal punishment of the Pimas and Guaicurus he works with. Over time Kino becomes increasingly obsessive, and his ambitious project of building a boat to be pushes across the Sonoran Desert to the west coast prompts the Vatican to question his sanity. The acting and cinematography are great, and the score won an Ariel Award (the equivalent of the Academy Award in Mexico), but the story dawdles along without any suspense, and some of the actors don't look Native American. However, this film is much better than than Mission to Glory, a second-rate U.S. film that attempted to turn Padre Kino's life into a Western.

Sinopsis en español:
Mientras agoniza en una choza, el jesuita Francisco Eusebio Kino recuerda los acontecimientos que lo condujeron de Italia a la Nueva España, en donde acompañó a la expedición del almirante de Atondo en calidad de cartógrafo y misionero. Durante su estancia en California y Sonora, Kino es testigo del maltrato de los españoles hacia los indígenas, situación que en ocasiones se vuelve en contra de su misión evangelizadora. Una dramática y poderosa epopeya acerca de Eusebio Francisco Kino, mejor conocido como Padre Kino.

Macario DVD

Director:Roberto Gavaldón
Writer: Roberto Gavaldón, Emilio Carballido
Cinematography:Gabriel Figueroa
Music:Raúl Lavista
Year/length:1960. 91 minutes.
Setting:Mexico during the Inquisition
Native Content:medium-low
Home Release:DVD (no subtitles)
Rating: lousy ok good

Macario is a poor Indian woodcutter struggling to provide for his family. On the Day of the Dead he is disenchanted with the ostentation of the rich and the death-devotion of the poor. He wishes that just one time he could eat a whole turkey by himself. His wife steals a turkey and cooks it for him, and Macario takes it into the woods to eat it by himself. There he is tempted by the Devil, Jesus, and finally Death, who gives him the power to cure the sick. Allegory ensues. Macario is presumably an Indian, though he doesn't look particularly Indian, and there is not much Indian culture shown. This film is mainly about the rich and the poor, and it could easily be applied to other cultures. Based on the story, "The Third Guest," by B. Traven.

Sinopsis en español:
Macario está basada en una obra de B. Traven quien a su vez basó ésta en un cuento de los hermanos Grimm; consiguiendo con estas correspondencias una sensación de fábula fantástica pero oscura, escondida en medio del paisaje natural del México rural. Macario y su familia viven en extrema pobreza, consiguiendo apenas un poco de comida con el trabajo que el padre realiza durante todo el día cargando leña por la ciudad. Conforme se acerca el Día de Muertos ve como las familias adineradas preparan grandes banquetes para sus difuntos mientras que ellos, aún en el reino de los vivos, no tienen siquiera oportunidad de probar bocado durante días. Encaprichado al ver este despliego de manjares se dispone a no volver a comer más hasta que no sea un guajolote para él solo. Su mujer, entendiendo sus sentimientos y a sabiendas de que es su trabajo el que los ha ayudado a sobrevivir todo este tiempo, se roba un guajolote y lo prepara sólo para él, incluso conminándolo a que vaya a comerlo solo al monte para que sus hijos no le pidan. Mientras busca un sitio apacible donde comerlo se encuentra con una serie de personajes: un ermitaño, un charro y un indio. Pero él puede ver detrás de esas apariencias quiénes son en realidad, a saber: Dios, el Diablo y la Muerte. Todos pidiéndole que comparta ese alimento con ellos, y dependiendo de la decisión que tome Macario es que se irán desencadenando los eventos a futuro que repercutirán significativamente sobre su vida.

THE REVOLUTION (1910-1919):
El indio DVD

Director:Armando Vargas de la Maza
Writers:Celestino Gorostiza, Armando Vargas de la Maza
Cinematography:Jack Draper
Music:Silvestre Revueltas
Year/length:1938. 85 minutes.
Setting:unnamed Indian village in the mountains, circa 1900-1910
Native Content:high
Home Release:DVD (no subtitles)
Rating: lousy ok

Loosely based on El Indio, the 1935 novel by by Gregorio López y Fuentes, first winner of the Premio Nacional de Literatura, this film show daily life in an Indian community in the years leading up to the Revolution of 1910. A group of white men looking for gold on Indian land recruits Julian, a young man of the community, to be their guide. After a fruitless search the whites try to torture the secrets out of him. Julian escapes, but only by leaping off a cliff and injuring his legs. Crippled and unable to work, he loses his fiancee Maria (Dolores Camarillo) to another young man, Felipe (played by Pedro Armendáriz). This rivalry between Julian and Felipe forms the central plot of the film, although it was only one of many stories in the novel (where all the characters went unnamed). Unfortunately the political, revolutionary aspects of the novel are muffled, as is the role of the nahual (witch doctor) and his war of spells. Disappointing as an adaptation, the film is important as one of the earliest attempts to portray the Indians in their own element, with whites playing smaller roles. We see the Indians at work and at play, with traditional costumes and a variety of dances and spectacles, including the famous volador or patlancuahuitl, in which four men swing around a pole on ropes.

The DVD I have seen (relased by Medialink, UPC 899485001189) has very poor video and audio quality, no subtitles, and a glitch which sends the viewer back to the beginning after the first chapter (you have to start again by selecting chapter 2.) There is another edition that pairs El Indio with Alias el Alacrán. Be careful not to confuse the 1938 El Indio with the 1972 grade-Z western of the same title, starring Armendariz's son, Pedro Armendariz Jr.

Casta Divina VHS

(The Divine Cast)
Director:Julián Pastor
Writer:Eduardo Luján
Cinematography:José Ortiz Ramos
Music:Joaquín Gutiérrez Heras
Year/length:1977. 120 minutes.
Native Content:medium
Home Release:DVD (no subtitles)
Rating: lousy ok good very good

The saga of a wealthy hacienda during the Revolution. Wilfrido, the hacendado, sends his son to fight the huaches (outsiders), and also sends his older, weaker Mayan workers, keeping the stronger ones to protect his own land. Meanwhile, Wilfrido also philanders with the Mayan women, causing conflict within his own family as well as the workforce, populated as it is with his illegitimate children. His arrogance sows the seeds of his own destruction. Casta divina intersperses quotes from the book, Mi actuación revolucionaria en Yucatán, by Salvador Alvarado, the military commander who liberated Yucatan and prohibited abuse of the Indians. An indigenous cast adds authenticity to this powerful historical drama.

Sinopsis en español:
Crónica de la guerra de castas que tuvo lugar en Yucatán en el siglo XIX, donde la tierra y las personas eran propiedad de los hacendados, quienes se autonombraban "casta divina." Por un lado, el general Salvador Alvarado organiza la revolución; por otro, los hacendados arman al coronel Ortiz Argumedo para defender su autonomía. Don Wilfrido, uno de los amos, no vacila en enviar a su hijo varón a luchar para conservar sus riquezas y prebendas, entre ellas el derecho de pernada. Finalmente, la revolución vence y los poderosos huyen abandonando su propiedades.

Que viva Mexico

(Da zdravstvuyet Meksika!)
Director/writer:Sergei M. Eisenstein
Cinematography:Eduart Tisse
Year/length:1979. 85 minutes.
Setting:Tetlapayac, in the state of Hidalgo
Native Content:high
Home Release:DVD
Rating: lousy ok good very good

This fascinating film is blend of fiction and ethnographic documentary that Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein filmed in various parts of Mexico in 1930-1931 and left unfinished when the budget dried up. To capture the essence of Mexico in all its glorious diversity, Eisenstein planned a "symphonic" film in several parts, each having its own style. "Calavera" shows people celebrating el día de los muertos. "Sandunga" ("wedding song") shows a young couple getting married. "Maguey" starts out as a documentary like the other two parts, showing men on the Hacienda Tetlapayac (in the state of Hidalgo) harvesting juice from the maguey cactus to make pulque. The narrative then delves into a story about a young couple, Sebastián (Martín Hernández) and María (Isabel Villaseñor), who approach the landowner to announce their engagement. The landowner exercises the jus primae noctis or derecho del señor, a feudal Europe custom that entitled the landowner to have the first night with any bride-to-be. When Maria is raped by one of the hacienda's guests, Sebastián and his friends seek revenge by stealing the landowners guns and attempt to overthrow him. After a shootout in the maguey fields, Sebastián and two companions are captured and brutally punished. The final segment of the film was to be titled "Soldadera" and was going to focus on the women who participated in the Revolution, but Eisentstein ran out of money before they could film the final chapter.

Upton Sinclair, the U.S. novelist and recent Nobel laureate who was producing the film, compiled the unfinished footage into the movie Thunder Over Mexico in 1933. Subsequent attempts to patch up the film resulted in Eisenstein in Mexico (1933), Death Day (1939), Time in the Sun (1940), Mexican Symphony (1940), Zapotecan Village (1958), and finally the 1979 version which is now available on DVD. Despite its unfinished state, it is still a fascinating film with stunningly iconic cinematography.

Sinopsis en español:
Filme inconcluso en cuatro episodios. El prólogo presenta imágenes alegóricas al México prehispánico. El episodio "Sandunga" recrea los preparativos de una boda indígena en Tehuantepec. "Fiesta" desarrolla el ritual de la fiesta brava, mientras que "Maguey" escenifica la tragedia de un campesino victimado por rebelarse en contra de su patrón. "Soldadera" (episodio no filmado) presentaría el sacrificio de una mujer revolucionaria. El epílogo, también conocido como "Día de muertos", se refiere al sincretismo de las distintas visiones que coexisten en México alrededor del tema de la muerte. Esta versión es la editada por Grigory Alexandrov y Esfir Toback en el año de 1979.

(The Woman Soldier)
Director/writer:José Bolaños
Cinematography:Alex Phillips
Music:Raúl Lavista
Setting:circa 1910-1920 (?); various unnamed locations
Native Content:medium
Home Release:DVD (no subtitles)
Rating: lousy ok good very good

A newlywed couple about to board a train for their honeymoon are suddenly caught up in the chaos of the Revolution. The husband is forcibly conscripted into the army, and the wife Lázara, with nowhere else to go, has little choice but to follow him. The husband is killed in the first battle, leaving Lázara alone and desolate. A soldier from Pancho Villa's army takes command of her, and she must carry his weapons alongside him as he rides on horseback. Soon, however, she loses him, too. Lázara is blonde and not well trusted by the other women, poor Indians arising against oppression. Nevertheless, when the women are left behind by the men, they give her weapons and teach her how to shoot. There are fascinating scenes of raiding wealthy houses, destroying the finery, searching for food and fighting each other over scraps. There is one touching scene where they come across another band of women, compete strangers, with whom they peacably trade guns for food. The film flies by with a minimum of dialogue, leaving the camera to tell the story through striking images, powerful acting, and stranger-than-fiction events. It is rumoured that José Bolaños intended this film to complete the story told in the unfinished ¡Que viva Mexico, which was supposed to have a chapter called La soldadera before the film was abandoned. The style of Bolaños' film meshes very well with the earlier classic, with its black and white cinematography and minimal dialogue. The DVD has no subtitles, but it's very easy to follow the story, so don't hesitate to check out this fascinating film.

Sinopsis en español:
Mientras esperan el tren que los llevará a su luna de miel, los recién casados Juan y Lázara son separados por un comandante del ejército federal que anda reclutando hombres para combatir a los revolucionarios. Desplazándose junto con la tropa, Lázara sigue a Juan hasta que éste muere en un combate contra los villistas. A partir de ese momento, el destino de la joven estará en manos de quien resulte vencedor en la contienda, un destino incierto para quien sólo desea una casa dónde vivir.

Director:Elia Kazan
Writer:John Steinbeck
Cinematography:Joe MacDonald
Music:Alex North
Year/length:1952. 112 minutes.
Setting:Morelos and Mexico City, 1909-1919
Native Content:medium-low
Home Release:DVD
Rating: lousy ok good

Marlon Brando plays Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919), the mestizo horse trainer of Morelos whose passion for justice drove him to lead an agrarian revolution against the wealthy hacendados to return land to the Indians. It takes the viewer a while to adjust to Brando playing a Mexican, surrounded by other North Americans who are supposed to look like the Nahua Indians of a small farming community in Morelos. Eventually, however, the viewer gets gets caught up in the story, which covers Zapata's reluctant rise as general of the southern division of the revolution, the temptations of authority, and the numerous betrayals he endured. Zapata is given a fictitious wife, Josepha, to add the romantic interest expected by 1950s audiences. Screenwriter John Steinbeck also wrote The Pearl (see The Films of Emilio "El Indio" Fernández). Check out this poster gallery: vhsarchive.blogspot.com/2010/01/emiliano-zapataviva-zapata_12.html

Sinopsis en español:
Biografía de Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919), famoso revolucionario mexicano que sublevó a todo el país contra el gobierno dictatorial del Presidente Porfirio Díaz. Kazan intenta mostrar cómo los líderes revolucionarios se corrompen en cuanto alcanzan el poder.

Director:Felipe Cazals
Writers: Antonio Aguilar, Ricardo Garibay, Mario Hernández
Cinematography:Alex Phillips Jr.
Music:Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Year/length:1970. 120 minutes.
Setting:Morelos, 1909-1917
Native Content:medium-low
Home Release:DVD (in Mexico)
Rating: lousy ok good

Sinopsis en español:
Las injusticias y los despojos de los campesinos y los pobre de Mexico bajo la dictadura de Porfirio Diaz dieron pies a que un hombre recio y cabal acaudillara el mas grande moviemiento revolucionario de la historia mexicana; el es Emiliano Zapata. En esta película quedan registrados magistralmente los hechos mas importantes de esta etapa sangrienta. Indudablemente es un de las mas grandes producciones cinematograficas que se hayan realizado jamas sobre este gran personaje y sobre esta etapa de la vida de Mexico.


(Zapata: Love in Rebellion)
Director:Walter Doehner
Cinematography:Luis Ávila
Music:Ricardo Martín
Year/length:2004. 261 minutes.
Setting:Morelos and Mexico City, 1909-1919
Native Content:low
Home Release:DVD
Rating: lousy ok

Demián Bichir plays Zapata, covering the major events of his revolutionary career plus a fictional love interest with Rosa, daughter of an hacendado, who sympathizes with his cause and keeps turning up at improbable moments to help him. Indians appear only as background characters.

Sinopsis en español:
Producción histórica que narra la historia de Zapata, un campesino, campeón de charrería, quien en búsqueda de justicia luchó en una campaña guerrillera durante y después de la revolución mexicana para proteger los dos ideales que se destacan en su lema: "Tierra y Libertad."

Other films about Emiliano Zapata (which I haven't seen yet):
Lucio Vazquez (Rene Cardona, 1968)
Lauro Puñales (Rene Cardona, 1969)
Trini (Walter Beck, 1979) [German production]
Zapata en Chinameca (Mario Hernández, 1987)
Zapata: El sueño del héroe (Alfonso Arau, 2004)
El fin del sur (Alex Sanchez, 2004, 8 min)
El encanto del aguila (mini-series, 2011)

(Tales of Mexico)
Directors:Natalia Beristáin, Carlos Bolado, Carlos Carrera, Ernesto Contreras, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, Alejandro Valle, Iván Ávila Dueñas
Writer:María Diego Hernández
Cinematography:Bogumil Godfrejow, Guillermo Granillo
Music:Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
Year/length:2016. 124 minutes.
Setting:Mexico City, 1910-2016
Native Content:medium-low
Home Release:DVD
Rating: very good

This remarkable film follows the inhabitants of a single room in Mexico City from the time of the revolution to the present, dramatizing the changing fortunes of Mexican society. The indigenous characters include two maids, Guadalupe (Ali Albarrán) and Genoveva (Norma Pablo) of an elite couple who own the house, and Guadalupe's boyfriend Hilario (Kristyan Ferrer) who wants to fight in the revolution. By the next chapter, the owner of the house is disguised as a commoner in a poncho, and Hilario hunts him down. By the third chapter the house has been divided into apartments, and Genoveva is the landlord, demanding rent from her Chinese tenants. In the fourth chapter, Genoveva is a maid again (now elderly, and played by Aurora Clavel), but she has learned to read. The woman who once owned the house with her husband now fantasizes that Hilario (now played by Dagoberto Gama) is now a retired general coming to buy the house. The remaining four chapters have less continuity, with no recurring characters, but continue to portray a changing Mexico in fascinating ways, passing through the Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968, the 1985 earthquake, the delinquency epidemic of the nineties, and glimmers of hope for a better society in 2016.

El Sueno (1910, Carlos Carrera)
La Pesadilla (1913, Daniel Giménez Cacho)
La Duermevela (1928, Carlos Bolado)
El Erotismo (1945, Ernesto Contreras)
La Soledad (1968, Alfonso Pineda Ulloa)
La Vigilia (1985, Alejandro Valle)
La Muerte (1994, Iván Ávila Dueñas)
La Evocación(2016, Natalia Beristán)

Sinopsis en español:
La Habitación es un testigo silencioso del inesperado destino de sus residentes. Un espacio donde las pasiones humanas se confrontan. Ahí germina la vida pero también acecha la muerte. Ocho historias que transcurren en momentos cruciales del México moderno y que marca la transformación, no sólo de sus inquilinos, sino de una sociedad y las expectativas nacionales a lo largo del siglo XX.

See Also:

Part Two: The Indian Films of Emilio Fernández

Part Three: Films on the Indigenous Peoples of Modern Mexico


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