Nuevo Mundo ( New World) (1978)
Director: Gabriel Retes.
Starring: Julian Abitia, Ángel Aragon, Lucila Balzaretti, Raúl Boxer, Roberto Brondo, Hector Campos, Elpidia Carrillo, Carlos Chavez, Luis Couturier
in the future Mexico, the Spanish laity and clergy use torture and fear to try to force the native people to accept Christianity and abandon their pagan beliefs
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
On the coast Indians are forced into a corral. A stagecoach loses a wheel. The clergyman, Pedro Francisco de Cana of the Holy Brotherhood, steps out of the stagecoach and learns that the wheel cannot be fixed here. So the clergyman gets a horse from one of the soldiers and with some soldiers ride to where they may get some assistance. Indian slaves are busy working on a plantation. The clergyman and his escort arrive at the plantation. Pedro Francisco stops to talk with Juan Diego de Alba. He says he needs some help from his men to fix the wheel on the stagecoach. Juan says his men will help.
Pedro Francisco asks the owner why are there only children and old men here on the plantation? Juan responds if he only knew why. He tells Pedro Francisco that he slaughtered a great many Indians in his day. But that was in war time. But now all he wants is to live in peace with the Indians. Pedro Francisco says that a rebellion is about to burst out and this would finish off most of the Indians. Juan accuses Pedro Francisco of trying to make him tell the brotherhood how to manipulate the Indians, so they can rape and kill these people, like in the old days. "Using the name of faith and the King!" Juan suggests that the authorities ally themselves with the Indians instead of killing them.
A soldier is trying to rape a woman. Juan runs to where the screams are coming from and he uses his wooden crutch to beat the soldier. Then the woman grabs a knife and kills the rapist. The Captain of the soldiers suggests to Pedro Francisco that they slowly back out of the area. Many Indians have their bows and arrows at the ready.
The Indians tell Juan that they didn't kill the whites out of respect to Juan, but they fear that the whites will return with even more soldiers. So, they feel they have to destroy the hacienda. Why? Because they can't defend it. A white fellow with Juan says the Spaniards will not forgive this action.
Juan starts burning the hacienda himself. There are hundreds of Indians on the plantation and they are running around with torches in their hands. Juan walks with his body guard and his Indian wife and child.
The Spanish soldiers pursue the Indians into the river. They capture Juan and his wife there. Juan is tied together with a number of captured Indians and forced to run back to the hacienda. Pedro Francisco separates Juan and his wife from the others. More and more slaves are brought in. One of the priests goes crazy and starts whipping the slaves as they walk past. The slaves are put to work moving rocks off a mountain. Still more slaves are brought in.
A stagecoach comes in. The priests start torturing the slaves. Juan's wife is naked and stretched out on the rack. When Juan is brought in, he sees his wife on the rack and promptly dies.
At night a group of soldiers beat two Indian slaves and then shoot them dead.
The Indians speak of banding together and attacking the Spaniards. They also are concerned with saving their gods.
Indians are forced to pray to the white god, but Pedro Francisco doubts that they are sincere.
The clergy and soldiers watch a male Flamenco dancer perform. A priest tells the highest clergyman that someone put an idol of an Aztec god behind the altar. The clergy now search for the idols and they find them all over the church. The top fellow is really angry at the Indians and calls them unfaithful. He puts Don Pedro Francisco in charge of straightening out the situation. At night the Indians are forced to congregate in one area.
Still more Indians are being tortured. Fires are lit to burn Indians alive as the clergy watches from their seats.
A priest tells the high-ranking clergyman that with these idols the Aztecs are asking for victory over the Spanish. "They will all revolt."
Pedro Francisco goes to the statue maker and asks him a lot of questions. The fellow says he doesn't work from live models. Pedro has two Indian workers bring over four or five statues for him to examine closely. Along the way, they drop the statues to the ground and take off running. The soldiers fire at the fleeing men. One of the workers is put on the rack.
Pedro Francisco talks about turning the Indians into Christians: "Now, what if we change their idols, for one similar, but blessed by us?" Pedro asks his superior if he can dispose of Maestro Manuel? The superior says: "Be very careful, he's a great artist."
Pedro Francisco has Manuel brought to the church. He tells him that he wants Manuel to paint a virgin. He wants a virgin with one white and one Indian angel at her feet. Now Pedro searches for a living model. At first he tries to get a white model, but then he decides it would be better To have an Indian model. He picks a group of women from a larger group of women.
Manuel looks at the faces of the Indian models. When he and Pedro come by the wife of Juan, she spits in the face of Pedro. Pedro starts to become very angry, but Manuel stops him. He is interested in the woman's face. He talks with the woman in an Aztec language and then tells Pedro: "This is the one!" Pedro just laughs and laughs at the idea.
Manuel paints Juan's wife as the Virgin Mary.
An Indian uprising starts. There are emissaries from every town.
Pedro looks at the painting. He says it's so life-like that the Indians will say the virgin lives. Pedro tells Manuel: ". . . we have to do this to stop your people from being exterminated!" And, above all, the Viceroy wants this. He turns to the model and tells her: "You have to betray your people, so they won't die."
The rebel Indians start killing the guards. Pedro and the top clergy meet to discuss the uprising. Pedro is hoping that the Indians will accept the portrait of the Virgin Mary as an Indian maiden. And if they do, how long will it last? Maybe for just now or maybe forever.
Manuel runs around with the portrait holding it up high. He picks up a lot of people as he runs. The group comes to the larger group and some leaders immediately object to the portrait. But Manuel keeps answering back to the charges of these hostile leaders. An Indian shoots an arrow into the area near the portrait, but the fellow is then immediately shot down. Now a whole group of natives grab one of their idols and pushes it over the edge of a high embankment. The idol breaks up.
The Viceroy Don Martin Gomez de Peralta has arrived at the source of the uprising. There is a procession down to the church where many in the audience are Indians. It sounds like the soldiers have been told to start killing the Indians once the signal is given. There may be no time for Father Pedro Francisco's miracle. The church doors are wide open and down the street comes the Indian portrait of the Virgin Mary. The vanguard pushes past the Spanish guards to allow the portrait to be brought into the church. Manuel runs into the church with the portrait and brings it up front so everyone can see it.
Manuel says that the Virgin Mary spoke to him and said: "Go and show it to My people." Manuel replied that the church doors are closed." The Virgin told Manuel: "If you have faith, all doors will open." She went on to say: "Tell My people that God is moved by so much suffering." He says he was also told that there must not be a war, for that route will only end in the destruction of both the Indians and the Spaniards and the new society will disappear. Moreover, the Virgin Mary will hold the Spaniards to account for any further acts of cruelty, because everyone is equal before God.
Now Manuel grabs the portrait and raises it high. Meanwhile, other natives grab a statue of the Virgin Mary. Now a procession is begun with the statue of a white Virgin Mary held high followed by the portrait of an Indian Virgin Mary. The church statues are burned in a pile while the portrait goes forward.
Now Manuel and others paint multiple portraits from Manuel's original.
Spanish soldiers force Manuel and model together in a church room and shoot them both. Pedro Francisco watches while this happens. He says: "When the old ones make a memory, they change the facts. One lie told too many times, becomes a truth. That's why it's necessary to have something . . . to remind us what really happened." He then tosses a smaller portrait of the Indian Virgin Mary out the window.
Pedro's superior tells him that the Holy Brotherhood never thought about the repercussions that the myth would strengthen the pagan aspect of the believes of the Indians. With time the church will think of something else and he wants Pedro to think about different routes to take. But for now the Indians are relatively calm. And it's time for Pedro to go.
Pedro climbs into the stagecoach and the coach moves out under military escort. The coach passes by a long procession of Indians with the portrait of the Indian Virgin Mary taking the lead. The coach stops at a wide open meadow. Pedro climbs down from the stagecoach and walks a little ways away from the group. He is then shot in the back.
Using pagan symbols to convert pagans to Christianity is an old practice. For instance, the Irish sun cross is a combination of the Christian cross and the Pagan sun god. So it is not surprising that the clergy in Mexico would resort to using an Indian Virgin Mary to attract the pagan Indians to Christianity. It isn't the pagan symbols being incorporated into Christian symbols that is so amazing about the film. What is amazingly good is the showing of the brutality and savagery of not only the Spanish soldiers, but the clergy too. A priest who grabs a whip and starts striking Indian after Indian as they go past him. The priests that not only used torture, but actually administered the torture on anyone standing in their way. In many ways it was a convert or die strategy. Priests also helped plan the possible extermination of the Indians. The big problem with this tough approach is that it led the Indians to revolt against the Spaniards and kill many of them.
So Father Pedro Francisco has a good idea. Combine some of the pagan features of the Indians' beliefs with Christianity and use the combination to attract the Indians positively to Christianity. Manuel painted the Indian Virgin Mary, but it wasn't so much the portrait that bothered the Spanish, but Manuel's speech that before God all people are equal. The Indians, in other words, are the equals of the cruel Spanish. This approach allowed for more of a policy of inclusion of the Indians rather than their exclusion. But the Spanish were afraid of this king of talk, because they wanted to and did use Indians as slaves. Theologically, if all men and women are equal, then how could the Spanish get rich by using slave labor? And who would pay the price for preaching an "extremist" view of equality in the church?
Good film, I recommend it for its honest look at the evilness of the early colonizers of the New World.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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