Retorno a Aztlán (1991) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A very hard drought devastates an ancient Mexican empire. Warriors and priests fight for power while people are dying. A group of priests return to Aztlan, the mythological place where Mexican culture was born, to pray to the goddess Coatlicue and stop the drought.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • "In Necuepaliztli in Aztlan" opens with a depiction of an Aztec creation myth. Five gods are seated around a sacred bonfire to choose one of them to sacrifice himself to become the Fifth Sun (that is, the Sun of the current creation). At first, a powerful god is chosen but he balks at the moment he was to jump in. Instead a humble, naked and sore-covered god is chosen, who bravely surrenders himself to the flames.

    The movie then shifts to Montezuma Ilhuicamina's death bed (A.D. 1469). Montezuma (Rodrigo Puebla) awakens from a feverish dream in which he had seen himself as the god who failed to jump into the bonfire and a peasant, Ollin (Rafael Cortés), as the god that did. After his death, Montezuma's chief councilor, Tlacaelel (Amado Sumaya), reviews the royal archives and comes across the records of a drought that had ravaged the land, bringing back memories of that time, which are depicted in the main action of the film.

    Montezuma and Tlacaelel initially had refused to lighten the tribute in light of the drought, but after much pleading from the priests and the commoners, they decide to do something about it. The priests determine that the drought has been caused by the goddess Coatlicue, who has been ignored by the Aztecs and her son, Huitzilopochtli, the Aztecs' chief deity. In order to placate her, the Aztecs would need to return to their ancestral land, the mythical Aztlan, but the priests, merchants and scribes determine that the route that their ancestors took is now lost. To find the route to Aztlan, Montezuma orders all magicians from the land to convene at his court. (Here, Mora Catlett weaves a story line about a drought into the tale of Montezuma's attempt to rediscover Aztlan, as told in chapter 27 of Diego Durán's "History of the Indies of New Spain.") In the meantime, tribute to be sent to Coatlicue is gathered from everyone.

    At Ollin's village, suffering greatly from the drought, Aztec warriors show up to collect tribute and they sack the village when they determine what the village gave them was insufficient. After Ollin's son (Jairo Marqués Padilla) discovers a bundle that porter dropped from the tribute, the village elders determine that Ollin himself must take the tribute to Coatlicue. After one last night with his wife (María Luisa Ávila) and son, Ollin leaves on the quest. Thus, both Montezuma's warriors and magicians and Ollin set off to find their way to the mythical homeland.

    Ollin discovers the route from an old woman (Socorro Ávelar) who lives in a cave in Aculco and who warns him of the hardships he will endure on it. En route he is robbed and nearly killed, only saved by the appearance of an Aztec merchant, who gives him food. Later on he finds himself stalked by a wild animal in a canyon, and is tricked into leaving behind his bow and arrow by a man lowers him a rope. After crossing long stretches of land without food or water, Ollin finally collapses.

    Montezuma's magicians follow the same route but find safety in their numbers and escorting warriors. They calculate that they will reach Aztlan by the next full moon, when the rainy season is to start. Back home, the missing tribute is discovered and Ollin's family is taken by the Aztecs.

    When Ollin awakens, he finds a woman whom he assumes is Coatlicue (also Socorro Ávelar). He offers her the tribute, but when the woman unties the bundle, Ollin discovers that all this time he had been carrying only the humble gift of a peasant: soil. The woman reprimands Ollin for traveling so far and disregarding his family. She also rebukes her son Huitzilopochtli for ignoring her and predicts his downfall. She then takes leave of Ollin. On his return, Ollin takes revenge on the man who took his weapons, stealing his rope and recovering the bow and arrow. Later on, Ollin is beaten to rabbit he was hunting by an Aztec warrior, but later that night, under the full moon, he manages to steal the rabbit and kill the warrior.

    Shortly afterwards rains do come, implying perhaps that Ollin had been successful in his mission and that despite her harsh words, Coatlicue has accepted his gift. When he finally returns home, he discovers his village virtually abandoned and his family disappeared. He finds the tribute box which his wife had hidden in his home. Warriors come upon him with it, and assuming he had stolen the tribute, execute Ollin. Before this, he tells them his story, which is recorded in the Aztecs' picture books.

    The warriors and the magicians also find their way to Aztlan through the use of spells which transform them in to magical beings. In Aztlan, they encounter an enchanted pyramid, which they cannot climb, but which enable the locals to become young again upon reaching its summit, and thus live forever. Here Coatlicue, in her guise as a goddess of death (Soledad Ruíz), meets with Montezuma's emissaries and again predicts her son Huitzilopochtli's downfall. She sends him the gift of a peasant's loin cloth. The warriors and magicians' account of their journey and the loin cloth are also entered in the royal archives.

    The narrative then returns to the older Tlacaelel, who determines that this episode is too insulting to a people and god as powerful as the Aztecs and Huitzilopochtli, so he destroys the records. The film then closes with the opening scene, the transformation of the humble god into the Fifth Sun.

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