Que Viva Mexico (1979)
Eisenstein shows us Mexico in this movie, its history and its culture. He believes, that Mexico can become a modern state.
- [NOTE: This synopsis was written after multiple viewings of the online video at IMDB, 84 minutes, with an Italian sound track, which was tricky as I don't speak Italian.]
The first sequence is a five minute documentary narrated by Grigori Aleksandrov. While relevant still photos are shown, we learn that in 1931, director Sergei M. Eisenstein, producer Grigori Aleksandrov and cinematographer Eduard Tisse came to USA for talks with Paramount, but no agreement resulted. This team was responsible for the successful prior films Battleship Potemkin and October. Some funding was arranged by writer Upton Sinclair, and the team went to Mexico to make a movie about its history and culture. With advice from Mexican intellectuals and artists, they traveled around Mexico and shot film. For a variety of financial and political reasons, Upton Sinclair deposited the film in Museum of Modern Art in New York for safekeeping. Eisenstein was never allowed to edit this movie. In 1979, the Soviet Union government retrieved the shot film and Grigori Aleksandrov prepared this version, using notes, sketches, and narration written by Eisenstein in addition to Aleksandrov's own recollections.
The second sequence shows traces in 1931 Mexico of pre Columbian Mexico, first a montage of ancient sculptures and monuments, showing live persons whose appearance resembles the faces seen in the sculptures. Animals that appear in the sculptures, particularly birds and monkeys, are shown in their habitats. A burial ceremony appears to be quite ancient in concept. Next, there are shots of everyday life in a remote community where it seems that nothing has changed in several hundred years. The narration comments that the culture is matriarchal, with the women doing most of the daily work and selecting shelter and mates, and we see daily work and dwellings of pre-Columbian design.
As we see relevant images, the narrator says that girls, starting in childhood, age about eight, work in order to save money to accumulate enough gold coins for a full necklace. When they have the full necklace, they are of marriageable age and select their own mate. Their wedding feast involves the entire village: the older matriarchs plan it, then there are costumes, food galore, dances and music. This sequence focuses on one such young woman, Concepción, her necklace, and wedding. The smiling couple is shown on a hammock, with a toddler, supposedly some years later.
The third sequence, labeled FIESTA, shows details of an elaborate yearly festival in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint. The narration says that these customs are a hybrid of pre Columbian elements with Spanish Catholic church teachings and traditions. Pilgrimages consist of walking on knees, sometimes real, sometimes simulated, up to the tops of hills where there are churches or shrines, many of them built precisely where pre Columbian pagan temples existed. Other male pilgrims tie their arms to Saguaro cactus beams that are carried horizontally on their shoulders as they represent Jesus on his way to his crucifixion. After the pilgrimages, there are celebrations with dances and prayers and parades. Catholic Church officials are the principal dignitaries. In the parades one can see many costumes and masks that clearly represent the Spanish Conquistadores, Cortez and his companions.
The fourth sequence shows how deeply Mexicans have adopted the purely Spanish import of bullfighting as part of their own tradition. One bullfighting day in the life of a top level bullfighter is shown, beginning with his complex dressing up in costume, going to visit his mother to get her blessing, going to church to pray to the Virgin of the Macarena, patroness of bullfighters, the events and crowds at the bullring, the parade, the honoring of the Queen of the Corrida, the entrance of the bull and first sequence of passes, the picadores, the slaying of the bull, and the hats being thrown into the ring with money gifts inside the crown. The day for the bullfighter ends in a relaxing boat ride in a flower boat at the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco as he is surrounded and coddled by an admiring coterie of beauties.
At this point a title card announces that we have seen Act I and Act II is next.
The fifth sequence is entitled MAGUEY. The initial minutes are documentary, showing how the interior fluid of the maguey plant is harvested and transported on donkey backs to the principal buildings of a large plantation. Next, narration says we will see a dramatization of a local legend, events that supposedly happened during the years of the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, when large plantation owners behaved in the fashion of medieval feudal lords.
When one of the maguey field workers wanted a bride, on the day it was handed to him by her parents, it was a required custom that the bride had to be introduced to the plantation owners before she could live on the plantation. On this occasion, the bride strikes the fancy of the owner, the young man is distracted, taken away, beaten when he protests, as his bride is raped, and confined within the plantation.
The fiancé, his brother and two friends want revenge, sneak into the plantation buildings to acquire an arsenal of rifles and bullets, and an armed rebellion starts. A complicated shootout ensues, the four laborers mainly on one hand, the plantation owner and his henchmen on the other. An interesting detail is that the daughter of the owner participates.
At the end of the shootout, one of the rebels has been shot dead, the other three are captured, bound, buried in the ground with only shoulders and head above ground. The leaders go away and the underlings on horses trample the helpless rebels. The captive girl, now a widow, comes to see the corpse of her fiancé.
The courage of the Indians in the defense of their honor, and the cruelty of the repression presage the revolution that the country needed.
At this point in the film, Alexandrov reappears, to partially narrate, while historical photos are shown, a planned sequence SOLDADERA that was to depict the important role that camp following women had during the revolutionary civil war that followed the overthrow of Porfirio Díaz. This sequence was never filmed due to a cutoff in funding.
A seventh sequence labeled EPILOG shows activities during the day of the dead. Families go on picnics to cemeteries and eat and drink over the tombs of dead relatives. Children are shown munching on chocolates shaped like coffins or eating candy goodies shaped and sized as human skulls. The attitude is to make fun of death. There are joyful dances where the dancers wear skull masks. Skull mask costumes are worn representing all the main characters of Mexican history, priests, politicians, conquistadores, etc.
The last few clips show children and adults removing their masks to reveal smiling faces that symbolize the promising future of a modern Mexico.