La Última cena (The Last Supper) (1976)
Director: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea.
Starring: Mario Acea, Mario Balmaseda, Francisco Borroto, Samuel Claxton, Andrés Cortina, José Díaz, Leandro M. Espinosa, Luis Alberto García, Julio Hernandez, Mirta Ibarra, Tito Junco, Elio Mesa, Alfredo O'Farril, Peki Pérez, Manuel Puig, Silvano Rey, José Antonio Rodríguez, Luis Salvador Romero, Idelfonso Tamayo, Nelson Villagra.
slavery in Cuba
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Havana sugar mill, Holy Week, end of 18th century.
The overseer Don Manuel bursts into the slave barracks shouting: "Shitty niggers!" He accuses them of having helped Sebastian escape. The master, Count Conde, arrives. The house slaves and various staff members greet him at the entrance to the farm house. The master takes a bath, while talking to the priest sitting just outside the room. The priest complains about the difficulty of teaching the slaves about Christianity. A lot of them don't seem to understand the religion. Father also speaks of the over-abuses of Don Manuel and the master's inclination for fornication with the black women.
Conde asks Father: "Where can I find peace Father?" Father says peace will be found with God and the church. He adds that Conde should respect the church. Slaves should be given off on holy days. Conde goes to visit the sugar mill. Mr. Ducle is in charge of the mill. Conde praises him for his innovations in production. Ducle says that he will need more sugar cane now that production is increasing. Moreover, they will also need more slaves. One drawback, however, is that this means they will have more blacks than whites at the mill. The escapee Sebastian is brought in. Don Manuel cuts off his left ear to make him more identifiable in case of another escape. The sight makes Conde sick and he goes inside.
Conde gives the order to gather all the field slaves together. When the slaves are all present, Conde tells Don Manuel to pick out 12 slaves at random. Conde asks where Sebastian is. He's in the stocks. Conde tells Don Manuel to clean him up and bring him to the church. Father gives the 12 instruction in religion. Later he takes them to the river to clean them up. There are some black women topless washing clothes in the river. This upsets the Father and he sends them away, but not before he falls into the river, which makes for a good laugh for the slaves.
With the help of Father, they wash the feet of the 12 and the master kisses them. (To the master this is a religious act of humility and contrition for him in honor of the sacrifices of Jesus.)
Don Manual talks with Ducle. Ducle talks about the possibility of slave uprisings. Remember what happened in Santo Domingo? And now there will be more blacks than whites at the mill. Ducle adds: "The niggers won't get my head."
The 12 slaves are invited to a recreation of the last supper. Conde tells the slave that this is all for them. They are to eat and drink their fill on this special day. One of the 12, a house slave, complains to Master that Don Manuel forced him to do some field work. Master says he will make it right. The slave is pleased with this answer.
Conde puts Sebastian on his right side. He tells the frequent escapee: "You're stubborn. You don't learn. . . . You're stupid." He asks Sebastian: "Who am I?" When Sebastian does not answer, Master demands: "Answer me!" So Sebastian spits in his face. The house slave Edmundo rushes for help, but Master stops him. He says: "Christ humbled himself" so he can humble himself. before these slaves He shouts: "More wine!"
Master tells the slaves about the bread as the symbolic body of Christ and the wine as the symbolic blood of Christ. This causes one slave to think of cannibalism. Master has to explain the difference. He then asks the slaves if they are happy. They say that the barracks is too close in; there's not enough air; a hut is better.
One of the slaves gets up and tells a tale. The other slave slaugh and the master seems to like the story too. He starts singing something in Spanish. The old slave Pascual asks for his freedom since he figures he only has a year more to live. Master thinks about it and then grants freedom to Pascual. Pascual is very happy and he kisses Master's right hand. Conde places Pascual on this left side at the table. He then asks Pascual what he will do with his freedom. But Pascual says there is no place to go. So Master says that this shows that freedom doesn't bring happiness. He tells a St. Francis story on what is perfect happiness. Master tells the slaves that it is best to suffer pain and injury for God. He waits for a reaction, but the slaves remain quiet. Then everyone starts laughing. One slave speaks up saying: "If the overseer beats me, I should be happy?" All the slaves bust out in laughter, while Master says: "Yes! . . . It's God's will. . . . God rewards those who suffer, who work more." He then goes on to tell the slaves of the story of Adam and Eve. The slaves complain about overseer Manuel and Conde tells them: "The overseer is a bastard!" They like that. He says in paradise the wall of hate will disappear.
Edmundo, worried about Master, tells him that it's time to sleep. This makes Master angry and he asks if Edmundo is forgetting his place. The Master falls asleep. Sebastian takes advantage of this to reaffirm that Olofi created the world. The Lie cut off the head of Truth. Truth in turn then cut off the head of the Lie and put it's head on his neck. Evermore afterwards, the Truth has been a bit deceptive. A few of the slaves say that Master is good. Another master would never have let them eat the the Master's table. And on Good Friday there will be no work for the slaves. While the Master sleeps Sebastian says: "I don't work" on Friday. He says he has a magic powder and the next time he escapes he will turn himself into a tree or a fish or something else. He blows the powder onto Master's face. Conde awakens and calls for Edmundo. He tells the house slave: "Get me out of here!" He lets the slaves sleep at the table.
Conde awakens, probably with a hangover. He gets dressed and then prays. He then gets on his horse and with his retinue leaves. Father comes out of the church to see them going. Now the foreman takes over and he demands that all the slaves get to work. Some slaves tell him that Father says there is no work today, but this falls on deaf ears. Father speaks to Don Manuel saying that he must respect the church and its Holy Days. Again the overseer is not listening. Father finally gives up saying: "I can't reason with you." The overseer shouts: "Back to work!" Father gets on a horse and leaves. Don Manuel even makes Pascual work. He then goes into the barracks to make some laggards get to works. Trying to get them up, Sebastian goes behind the foreman and starts choking him. The black foreman's aide tries to come to the rescue, but he is killed.
Father goes to talk with the Count. But Conde just says that they should let the overseer do his work with the slaves. The priest protests and the Count repeats that they shouldn't meddle with the work of the foreman. Father says the slaves don't want to work. That doesn't concern the Count. Father says the slaves learned a lot from sitting at the Master's table -- some of it not so good. They learned to sit at the Master's table. News arrives that the slaves at the mill have rebelled and that Don Manuel has been taken hostage. Master shouts to get together an armed band. They must crush the revolt.
The slaves grab the Spanish woman and take her hostage. They put the foreman into the stocks. Then someone says they should burn the mill. A group of three with the Spanish female hostage will go out to meet with Master and speak to him.
The Count and his men ride to the mill. They ride up to the three slaves and the Spanish girl. The hostage makes a run toward them. One of the slaves chases the rope she trails behind her. When he grabs the rope it jerks the woman backwards and she breaks her neck killing her. The Spanish fire on the slaves killing the fellow who grabbed the hostage rope. Father prays over the dead woman.
Two slaves arrive on horseback shouting that the Master's coming and they are killing all the blacks. The slaves start burning the mill and other buildings. The church is spared. Sebastian kills Don Manuel.
Master arrives and sees Don Manuel dead. He asks the priest what time Christ died. Father replies: "This very hour."
Sebastian confronts Ducle in the bedroom at his place. Ducle closes and locks the bedroom door. One of the Master's posse knocks on the door. He asks Ducle how he managed to escape. Ducle says he hid. The fellow leaves. Ducle opens the bedroom door, but Sebastian is gone.
The count and the others attend the wake for the two whites. When he finds out that two of the dead slaves are also at the wake site, he demands that they be removed. He shouts: "This is not Santo Domingo." Then Master starts to point out some of the 12 that were at the last supper. He says: "I want them dead!"
One by one the remaining survivors of the 12 at the last supper are hunted down by dogs and men. One man is shot to death. Another jumps to his death. Another of the 12 is brought into camp. When he says "yes" to the question "You ate with him?", he gets shot in the stomach and killed.
Ducle leaves the sugar mill place forever. Some of the slaves are being brought back to the site of the sugar mill.
There are 12 poles arranged in a semi-circle. The heads of 11 of the slave attendees of the last supper have been cut-off and placed on top of the poles. One is left, awaiting a head. Conde says that he will rebuild the mill and he will also build a new church. Sebastian continues to run for his life.
Good movie, but in the middle of it, the scene of the last supper, there is too much for too long of a period. Other than that the movie proceeds nicely. The movie, of course, exposes the brutality of the system of slavery and the role of Christianity in justifying slavery in order to keep the slaves passive and working. (It's not Christianity's fault. Any dominant idea will be used to justify any system desired by human beings, no matter how brutal and unfair.) The priest, however, did try to soften the burden of the slaves somewhat, even though he failed. The brutality of the system of slavery did lead to slave rebellions as seen in the film. These rebellions usually kept the slave owners and staff in a state of paranoia, ever worried by the fear of being killed in their beds.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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