La Otra Conquista (The Other Conquest) (1998)
Director: Salvador Carrasco.
Starring: Damián Delgado (Topiltzin / Tomás), José Carlos Rodríguez (Fray Diego de La CoruZa), Elpidia Carrillo (Tecuichpo / DoZa Isabel), IZaki Aierra (Hernando Cortés), Honorato Magaloni (Capitán Cristóbal Quijano), Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez (Beata Conversa).
Aztec resistance to Christianization by the Spanish under Cortez
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
1519. Cortez rode into the Aztec capital of Mexico. He was welcomed by Emperor Moctezuma. Within two years the Aztec civilization was an orphan state and the survivors were trying to adapt to a new world without families, homes, temples . . . or gods.
May 1520. The Great Temple following the Great Temple Massacre by the Spanish. Dead bodies lie everywhere. Aztec Topiltzin pushes a body off him and gets up. It is raining cats and dogs. He starts to walk around the temple in a daze. He climbs up the side of the temple. There he sees his mother dead and screams: "Mother!"
La Coruna, Spain, 1548. Friar Diego is back in Spain from Mexico. He hasn't spoken since he arrived. Another clergyman says that he thinks Diego wants to die. Diego shouts out "the final journey!" He dies. The clergyman finds a picture drawing (part of a codex) of an Aztec warrior stuck on top of a tall stone post with a flag stuck in his back.
1526. Topiltzin says: "All this happened to us." At the ruins of Aztec temples, there are hundreds of dead bodies laying all over the ground and everywhere on the temples. There was a massacre here apparently. Topiltzin is painting pictures (making a codex) of what he sees before him. He stops painting and and screams to the sun: "Sun God, why have you abandoned us?" The Spanish destroyed the ceremonial center of the Aztecs.
The Spanish are having great difficulties getting a small cannon up to a mountain top along a narrow mountain trail. Friar Diego is with the group. He has just arrived in Mexico. The leader of the expedition to find the last small refuges of pagan Aztecs and get them Christianized is Capitán Cristóbal Quijano. The Captain complains that Cortez forced Friar Diego on him.
Topiltzin puts his codex inside the base area of the mother goddess idol so it won't fall into the hands of the Spanish. A young, thin, beautiful woman is being prepared for sacrifice. Topiltzin is there with his brother and grandmother.
The Spanish expedition comes across the temple area in a clearing. Friar Diego asks if they are supposed to destroy this area. He then hears a sound. It is the sound associated with the human sacrifice ceremony. Diego refers to it as a "savage ritual". The members of the expedition run toward the temple complex and the noise.
Grandmother gives the young sacrificial woman some mushrooms to eat so she will not feel the pain of the day (as if she was giving communion to the young woman). The Spanish continue their running. The woman to be sacrificed believes that she will become one with their mother goddess. She tells Topiltzin: "This is what my heart desires." People grab her hands and others her feet. They stretch her over the sacrificial altar. The man to kill her raises his knife and then plunges it into her heart area and pulls out the heart.
The Spanish now arrive, but a little too late. After some hesitation a fight breaks out between the Spanish and Aztecs. Grandmother is killed. Topiltzin is knocked out. The Spanish destroy the mother goddess. They then unwrap a statue of the Virgin Mary. What the captain wants to know, of course, is where is the gold. Topiltzin refuses to say, but his brother points to the base of the idol. They open the base to find the codex, but no gold. The Spanish then burn the codexes. Friar Diego grabs a section to save it. He tears out the piece of the codex with the Aztec warrior spread out over the stone pillar with a flag stuck in his back. He places it inside his frock to later put it inside his Bible. Topiltzin's brother climbs up a section of the cave. He turns around and throws a stone at Friar Diego knocking the man down, which leads to his falling down the rock sides to the ground. The captain says: "Stupid friar. You'll never convert them."
The brothers meet again. They have very different attitudes to the Spanish. Topiltzin wants to resist the Spanish, while his brother says: "We have to adapt to survive." Topiltzin replies: "Not me. I know who I am." His brother says he works for the whites at the market.
The Spanish visit a small village. There they give Topiltzin's brother some money saying that's a fair price for his brother. Cortez wants Topiltzin brought back alive. The Captain does not like this order. He wants him dead.
The Captain delivers Topiltzin to the court of Cortez. Cortez speaks to him through his Aztec interpreter, Tecuichpo. He wants to know why he tried to kill Friar Diego. The beautiful female translator says that he is a son of Moctezuma. She adds that he is her half-brother. She mentions to Cortez his evil Captain Pedro de Alvarado and the massacre they carried out at the Great Temple as stumbling blocks to the conversion of the Aztecs. Outside the Captain watches from afar with another man. The Captain wants to know what happened to Cortez's favorite mistress Malinche. He gave her to Captain Jaramillo is the answer. Malinche was the mother of Cortez's first born. The Captain scoffs at the very idea of a first son. For him, a half-breed (mestizo) doesn't count. Because of Cortez's fondness for his mistress interpreter, he commutes the death sentence for Topiltzin. But the prisoner has to convert to Christianity. And Capitán Cristóbal Quijano will be the one to give him the 33 lashes of the whip as his punishment. In addition, his name will be Tomás. Friar Diego will be his teacher. And from on now Tecuichpo will be known as DoZa Isabel. Cortez then gives her the Province of Tacuba. Isabel hugs her half-brother, but the Captain grabs him away from her.
Cortez gives Isabel a gold necklace. He rips off her old Aztec necklace. Cortez then tells Isabel that he never believed her story about her half-brother. So now he wants to know why she saved him. She indignantly tells him that she never lies to him. Her half-brother's mother was the favorite mistress of Moctezuma. Cortez says: "As you are mine." He pulls off her top and pushes her onto a table. He starts having sex with her. Isabel is none too happy about this and reminds Cortez that he killed her husband Prince Cuauhtemoc and for no reason at that! Cortez protests that he left Malinche for her.
Two guards take Tomás to the Palace Square for the ceremony of the lowering of the Virgin Mary statue and the whipping. By ropes the statue is let down to the ground from the top of the cathedral. The worried Isabel asks Cortez to give his word that Tomás will live. She adds that Friar Diego does not approve of the punishment. As governor and captain general of New Spain, Cortez swears that Tomás will live. The captain enjoys whipping Tomás. Tomás's brother can't take anymore and knocks one of the attendants downn. For this a guard cuts off his head with a sword. The captain then switches from the whip to chains. Isabel asks Cortez to intervene; chains are forbidden to be used to whip people. Cortez will not and the two get into an argument. Cortez slaps her. As she leaves, he shouts to her: "I don't give a damn about your people!"
Isabel goes to see Friar Diego. She tells him that this is all his fault. And it will weigh heavily on his mind. Diego goes down to ask the Captain to stop using the chains. He does stop, but instead uses a lit torch to burn Tomás's feet. Tomás screams in pain and passes out.
Five years later. Monastery of Our Lady of Light. Isabel is forging a letter from Cortez to King Charles V of Spain in order to get Cortez into trouble. She gives Tomás a template to use for Cortez's signature. Friar Diego finds the template and easily figures out what Isabel and Tomás are up to. Diego hears noises and the forbidden Aztec language. He goes to investigate. Tomás and Isabel are having sex. Tomás tells here: "The survival of our blood depends on us." The Friar does not try to stop them.
Diego writes to Cortez about the matter. He asks the governor to never send Isabel back to the monastery. But since Tomás was only a pawn in her scheme, he does not want Tomás punished. Friar Diego flagellates his back. Tomás hears the noise and comes to investigate, but he is driven away by two guards who tell him that Isabel will never return to the monastery. Across from a prison window an Aztec plants some plant seeds. Later they bloom. Cortez goes to the prison to check on Isabel in her cell. From her small window she can see the roses blooming. She is pregnant. Cortez thinks it is his child, but she tells him that the child is not his.
Tomás prays and sleeps on the stone floor of the monastery. He becomes ill. A sister is ordered to oversee a bath for Tomás. There he starts to go a little crazy. He cries out to the Virgin Mary statue that he will give her his body, but "my spirit never." At night he dreams of the lowering of the Virgin Mary statue. She drops Jesus into his arms. Cortez sends the Virgin Mary statue to the monastery. Tomás becomes absolutely obsessed with the statue. Later he talks with Friar Diego and says that the Spanish turned his people into ashes. He then emphasizes that basically the Friar and he are the same. Friar Diego seems moved and says: "May God bless you Tomás!"
Tomás learns that Isabel took her own life rather than be tortured to death. The Friar, afraid of what Tomás might do, locks him up in a room. Tomás looks out from his window and sees the new statue. Tomás escapes. Friar Diego is desperate to find him. They find him on his knees in a prayer stance looking through the slots in a door at the Virgin Mary statue. Tomás is now forbidden to enter the sacristy.
Friar Diego is led by an Aztec woman through a large cave. He is going to speak with a woman known for her cures. The Friar is searching for a cure for Tomás. The woman tells him that there is nothing to be done -- Tomás is a spirit without body.
Tomás asks the sister for some extra food. She gives it to him even though it is not permitted. Tomás talks to her a lot and she finally says to him: "Leave me alone!" Tomás replies: "Perhaps tomorrow we'll never meet again." The sister does not know what he is talking about. A little later Tomás calls out for his mother and cries. He hugs the sister tight around her waist while she is sitting down and puts his head on her bosom. She comforts Tomás, When Tomás feels better, he tells sister not to mention any of what happened to Friar Diego.
Friar Diego, wearing a wool shirt, wakes up from a nightmare. He goes to tell his aide Rolando to watch Tomás's room and make sure he does not get out. Diego adds: "Find out if he is going to do what I think he is going to do." Although Diego told him not to, Rolando ties Tomás onto the top of the table at night. Skinny Tomás is able to free himself from the ropes quiet easily. He places the table up against the wall and then climbs up to the window. With his feet he is able to knock out the cross bars at the window. He climbs up to the top of the monastery wall and grabs some rope. He uses the rope to slide down into the chapel. He then enters the room with the Virgin Mary statue. Face to face he stares into the face of the statue for a while. He takes the crown from her head. He brings her part-way through the window of his cell. Tomás places the table behind him and climbs back up to the window. He pulls the statue through the window and grabs it tightly around the chest. He then thrusts himself backwards and lands on his back with the statue still in his embrace.
Friar Diego finds Tomás dead with the statue. He sends Rolando to tell Cortez about what happened to Tomás.
Friar Tomás contemplates the meaning of what has taken place. He says that the meaning is found in the miracle of how two different races can be as one through tolerance and love. He refers to God as: "God of all."
Good movie. In his commentary the director emphasizes the resistance of Tomás to full Christianization. He admires the Aztec's spirit of rebellion and resistance. And he doesn't think much of the adaptive philosophy of Topiltzin/Tomás's brother. Although I see the rebellious spirit, that pales in comparison to the lesson learned by Friar Diego. The director mentions this theme himself saying that Diego got back in touch with the true meaning of Christianity, that all men are equal. Diego learned that the Aztecs are very much like the Spanish. They are all people. And the good Friar wants to treat the Aztecs with respect. He opposed the viciousness of the Spanish toward the Aztecs and, as a protest, when he returned to Galicia and the monastery there he refused to speak again. Good performances by all the actors playing the main characters.
I am a great skeptic of traditional religion, but I do think the idea of one God (like one truth) is a superior idea in religion and should have been adapted, rather than resisted, by the Aztecs. I'm not one for the all-truth-and-values-are-relative stuff.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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