Santa Anna: Su alteza serenisima (2001)





Director:     Felipe Cazals.

Starring:     Pedro Armendariz, Jr.,  Isaura Espinoza,  Blanca Guerra,  Alejandro Parodi,  José Carlos Ruiz.

the last three days in the life of Santa Anna (1794-1876)


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Mrs. Santa Anna enters a really messed-up house.  She speaks of "our" misfortune and those who have made "our" country suffer.  She says the errors that were made by her husband were done by a man who was honorable but mistaken.  He marched alongside his men until the San Jacinto River in the War for Texas Independence.

Three of the women servants prepare General Santa Anna's body to be laid out for his funeral.  Mrs. Santa Anna says that some call him a traitor.  The women dress the General in his fancy military uniform.  One of the three women says:  "Let's see if now he finds peace in his grave."  Another one says of him:  "Bastard." 

Compliances and Comparisons.  Three days before.    

Mrs. Santa Anna hands out coins to the poor.  With these she is selecting a small group from the large number of poor.  She asks:  "Do you want to eat and bless the name of the Liberator?"  She adds:  "I don't want just anybody."  In addition, she says:  "If you fail me, you die."  She acts like a stern moralist giving out coins to some and insults to others.  Her selected group follows her in a military formation. 

Santa Anna is eating dinner.  He talks with the Rev. Celio Alfonsi.  The General speaks about Napoleon as a military genius.  He does not care for the reverend and he doesn't like changing confessors.

A woman in a black veil comes into the building.  She waits to speak with the General with his wife.  The wife tells her: "I'm counting on you."  The General examines the woman through a separation in the drapes and also listens to the conversation.  The woman's name is Rosa Otilia.  When she meets with the General he asks:  "How does your country look after 20 years away?"  He says that he has been kept very informed about events happening in Mexico.  "It seems that our friends have been fraternizing with our enemies."   They are forging friendships with the ladies of the entourage of Carlolita.  Rosa says she does not deny anything.  She changes the subject by asking the General if he remembers all her beautiful friends.  He nods yes and laughs.  She rattles off a number of names that brings smiles to his face.  Then she stands up and moves to a chair closer to the General.  She starts to become very frank:  "I don't like you.  . . . I'm being candid with you.  . . . I have never liked you.  One day with the Masons, the next with the Federalists.  They say you sent letters to that Indian Juarez."

The General says he is grateful to her for her frankness.  So she says that he keeps repeating the same meaningless phrases:  "Don't repeat those hollow phrases from those Nahuales who govern us.  Masons, Anglicans, indecent Indians, ashes of Reformists!"  She says that she comes on behalf of "our" people, the Guadalupanos.  She says that "We will win."  The General says only that he does not want to see any more bloodshed.  She gets up to leave, but he blocks her exit.  She pulls out a red jewelry case and shows him the beautiful necklace inside.  She says a friend mentioned a good price he could get for it. 

He remembers a dandy named Menchaca, who had branded Veracruz a land of nothing but hammocks.  The fellow had a sad, insipid life. 

A middle-age man comes to see the General.  He is Colonel Austroberto Lavin.  He says that nowadays it is hard getting enough Indians to start an uprising.  He also says that he himself took care of the bunch of wretches who disinterred the General's leg to throw it back and forth to each other.  "Not even one remained to talk about it."   The General offers a toast "To a country that spends it time backing down and changing its mind.  To the ungrateful."  Santa Anna had stayed with the Colonel's sisters in Jalapa where he learned to walk again.  He adds that his sisters ended up as prostitutes.  Then they toast to the Iturbides:  the Guerreros, Gomez Farias, Lucas Alaman.  But the General says "They were garbage. . . . The nation has already forgotten them."   September 22, 1828; where were the people?  And on July 21, 1834, where were the people.  The Colonel says they locked down the university and chased away the delegates.  "Tremble Masonic rebels."  And in 1838?  Once again they were foreigners.  The Colonel adds that "we put the Frenchies in their place."  And the General lost his left leg.  The Colonel says that the General was president of the Republic 11 different times.   Then the General falls asleep and Lavin leaves.  Mrs. Santa Ann pays him with some coins and then takes off the coat she had placed on him.  Outside the Colonel throws up a little.  He walks past the selected poor eating their lunch.

Santa Anna speaks about the atrocious, intolerable pain caused by his missing leg.  He says:  "I can't stand any more of it!"  He rubs his stump of a leg.  His wife is with him through his suffering. 

No Room for a Mangy Cock.  Two days left. 

Another woman arrives.  She is an astrologer.  The confessor is there also.  The General speaks with the astrologer.  She rubs his stump and talks to him about what the stars tell her.  She then asks him if he wants to hear the truth.  Yes, he does.  "The time has come."   The General responds by saying that he wants to live.  All he needs is a few more months to fight his enemies.  The father comes in.  He does not like astrologers and he refuses Santa Anna's request to give her a blessing.   He calls her a non-believer.  When he finally concedes to the General's wish she flicks her tongue at him.  He becomes infuriated:  "Insolence!"  When he calms down a bit the General shows him his armoire of wooden legs.  The priest leaves without a confession from the General. 

Mrs. Santa Anna arranged the people in the sitting room.  The audience is composed of the selected poor.  They will listen to the hired musicians.  The General's wife is not pleased when she learns that the General did not confess his sins.  The musicians start performing.  The General examines the food the three cooks prepared.  He is not pleased. 

Mrs. Santa Anna receives an older gentleman, Maximo Juarez.  The General's wife says President Lerdo de Tejada will not see her husband.  But her husband is not going to stop until they meet.  She mentions that he feels that he is being punished for a mistake, namely his acknowledgement of French Emperor Maximilian.  Maximo simply says "No one even remembers that."

The General comes into the sitting room.  He greets his guests as if he were a still very active politician.  He asks for quiet.  But then someone in the audience shouts:  "Thief!"  The General looks for the person who said it.  He then leaves the room.  He goes in and spits on all the food dishes prepared by the three women.  Then he urinates on the food.  The women leave in horror.  Maximo approaches one of the musicians, knocks him down and breaks some of the strings of the man's guitar. 

The General now speaks to his wife as if she were a servant being fired:  "Madam . . . that which has occurred is unspeakable.  From this moment on you are not worthy of my consideration."  She nods and leaves the room. 

Maximo knocks on the General's door and goes into the hall and into the General's room.  They communicate with a little sign language at first.  Then they give each other a warm welcome. The Generals blames the Reformists.  But Maximo has a different take on the matter.  He says that freedom of worship ended up dividing the church and it was almost annihilated.  He adds that he and the General were mistaken about the issue.  The Liberals were not the good ones.  But, says the General, "I was the Napoleon of the West."  Maximo says that the South was the source of most of their problems.  The Indians allied with the Americans' ideas to be able to chase off the Frenchies.  Santa Anna doesn't really understand this.  He asks:  "How?"  He personally buried General Nicholas Bravo (who was accused of not wanting to face his old comrade Juan Alvarez) and his wife. He adds that  "Juan Alvarez was a quitter and Comonfort thanked me for not attacking him in San Diego."  Maximo says the problem was primarily in the south of Oaxaca with that of Benito Juarez and the one after him:  Porfirio Diaz.  Again he reiterates:  "We were mistaken."

Santa Anna speaks of Independence and Texas, but Maximo says they are all past history.   "Let bygones be bygones.  . .  Bring yourself up to date.   The foreigners.  This time they won't come. . . . The Americans and the Spanish are ready to divide Cuba between them."   Santa Anna gives the necklace to Maximo for the raising of funds.  Maximo departs.

Santa Anna lays on his bed.  Later he gets up and slowly descends to the latrine in the basement.  Without the help of his wife, it is hard to get to basement because of the poor people on the stairs.  And then when he arrives only one of the commodes is available because of the four or five poor people sitting on the others.  It is a little embarrassing for the General and for the poor people.  One veteran apologizes to the General.  Another veteran says that in another day they will be without a government.  The first vet says that he was with the General at Matavista where they won and in Jancandu where the General received his second epaulet as captain.  And then in 1916 he defeated the insurgents in Coyocuenda. 

Santa Anna tries to get himself back into bed and is having a hard time of it.  His wife returns.  He cries as she puts a blanket around him.  She then helps him to the bed.

A Dead Cock Wins One on the Run.  (The Very Day of his Death.)

The cooks feed the poor in the basement.  The confessor comes to visit the General.  He tells Santa Anna that he has come to say goodbye.  He asks the General to pardon him for his insolence and obstinacy the other day.  The General says that's just the nature of priests.  "That's what you are all like."  The priest does not like the answer but gives his present of a booklet to the General anyway.  Santa Anna asks him what deal does he want to for the present.  The priest says he is not asking for any deal.  The General calls him a "loser".   The priest soon takes his leave of the suspicious man. 

When the priest leaves the General examines the booklet.  He reads the caption to a picture of a hinged wooden leg.  "Fig. 6.  Anglesen Leg (1850).  Knee, ankle and foot are articulated."  Santa Anna is disgusted that the invention has been available since 1850 and he never knew of it.  He throws the booklet down in disgust. 

Flashback to the funeral for Santa Anna's left lower leg. 

Santa Anna finds his derringer and sticks it in his pocket.  He then goes to the sitting room to see the poor people.  This time he is going to be ready for any smartass with a comment.  He wants to confront the person who yelled thief.  After a lot of flattering remarks directed to the General, it seems like everything will proceed nicely.  But then a young Indian starts clapping at the wrong time.  Then they all clap.  Santa Anna goes over to the young fellow and says:  "Your father has arrived.  Bastard!"

Santa Anna goes in to meet with two big prostitutes with large bosoms.   Mrs. Santa Anna sees them and closes the drapes.  She then talks with the "bastard".  She tells him she never wants to see him again.  Then she really tears into him with a lot of different insults.  She then hears her husband laughing with the prostitutes.  They tell him that they need his help.  They then tell him funny stories about their on-the-job experiences.  Near the end they tell him an involved story that gives the impression that he reaches some type of feeling of satisfaction.   They leave saying they will come back tomorrow.  Before they go out the door, they give him a necklace to sell or buy.  After they leave he looks at the necklace and laughs.  It's the same one he got from Maximo. 

As the prostitutes leave, they leave the door open.  Many of the selected poor enter the house without permission.  Mrs. Santa Anna goes in to look in on her husband and finds him asleep with his head laying sidewise in a bowl of food.   At first, his wife thought her husband might be dead. 

The General's money investor visits.  Mrs. Santa Anna insults him for being a virtual thief and then warns him to not to try and take advantage of a man on his death bed by talking about big deals.  But as soon as the man is alone with the General, he starts suggesting that the General invest his money in the Tamaulipas Railroad.  Later the man leaves. 

Mrs. Santa Anna reads to her husband lying in bed.  While she reads, the poor invade the upper rooms and start making a big ruckus, destroying expensive items and taking other things.  The wife just keeps on reading to her husband.  Suddenly he starts talking about his brother.  Another time he bolts upwards and says:  "Senora, the night is young.  I'm going to take a stroll around the casino.  With your permission."

The poor break into the General's room.  They start insulting him with words such as traitor, wretch, idiot, crook, thief, renegade and coward.  Later the General dies. 

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was President of Mexico 11 times.  He was a Federalist and then a Centralist.  He was also a republican.  He was proclaimed unpronounceable emperor.  He practiced the Masonic rites, but was always a devout Guadalupan, he was also a conservative and a supporter of Juarez.  He granted the Mexican currency and championed the first national air flight. 


Pretty good movie, but you sure have to know about Mexican history to fully appreciate it.  It's best to look over the historical background.  The film was probably originally a play on stage, because the film is set in only one location.  Because of this, the film seemed a little slow at times. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:


1794 (February 21)  --  Santa Anna was born in Xalapa, Veracruz to a family of the criollo middle class.

He had only limited schooling.

He worked for a Veracruz merchant.

1810  --  Mexico declared its independence from Spain. 

1810 (June)  --  appointed a cadet in the Fijo de Vera Cruz infantry regiment.   His main job was battling insurgents and policing the Indians.  He actually fought against the movement for Mexican independence.  But most crillo officers in the Royalist army did the same. 

1811  --  Santa Anna wounded in the arm by a Chichimec arrow while on campaign against northern Indian tribes.

1813 -- he served in Texas against the Gutiérrez/Magee Expedition.  Cited for bravery at the Battle of Medina. Santa Anna officer witnessed commander Arredondo's mass executions.  (This may have been an influence on his later conduct in the Texas Revolution.)

During a lull in the action during the fight for Mexican independence, Santa Anna erected villages for displaced citizens near Veracruz.  He also became addicted to gambling at this time. 

1821  --   Santa Anna stops supporting Spain and now serves "El Libertador", Agustín de Iturbide.

1821  --  Santa Anna wins fame by driving the Spanish forces out of Veracruz.

After Santa Anna declared his loyalty to the Emperor, Iturbide rewarded him with the rank of general, yet in 1823 Santa Anna was among the military leaders supporting the Plan de Casa Mata to overthrow Iturbide and declare Mexico a Republic. Later, Santa Anna would play important roles in replacing presidents Manuel Gómez Pedraza and Vicente Guerrero.

1823  --  Iturbide makes Santa Anna a general.

Congress had two major factions: the Federalists and the more conservative Centralists. The support of the Federalists came from liberal criollos and mestizos (people afraid of control from a conservative Mexico City).   The Centralists supported conservative tradition and usually came from the clergy, conservative criollos, landowners, and the military.

By 1824  --  Santa Anna appointed governor of the state of Yucatán. He then proceded to make plans to invade Cuba.  (But he could never get enough support or funds.)

1825  --  Santa Anna marries Inés García.  She has five children with him. 

1829  --  At Tampico Santa Anna becomes a hero when he opposes and defeats the Barradas Expedition.  From that time he liked to be referred to as "The Victor of Tampico" and "The Savior of the Motherland".

Anastasio Bustamante led a coup, overthrowing and killing President Vicente Guerrero.

1833 – Santa Anna is elected president.

1833 (May 16 - June 3)   --  His first term as president.  Not that interested in running the government, he gives the go-ahead to vice-president Valentín Gómez Farías, a liberal reformer, who fought against rampant corruption. This brought opposition from the military, wealthy landowners and the Catholic Church.

1833 (June 18 - July 5)  --  His second term as president.

1833 (October 27  – December 15)  --  third term as president.

1834 (April 24)  – 1835 (January 27)  --  fourth term as president. 

Santa Anna dismisses Farías. But he goes much farther: suspends the Constitution; disbands Congress; and works for a centralized government.  Several states rebel against the Santa Anna changes. These included present-day Texas, San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, Durango, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Yucatán, Jalisco and Zacatecas. But only Texas votes to secede.

By this time – Santa Anna had relinquished the presidency four times. He appointed his successor to go off to battle.

1835 (May 12) – the "Army of Operations" defeats the Zacatecan militia (the largest and best supplied of the state militias) led by Francisco Garcia. They take 3,000 prisoners.

1835 (late)  --  Texas rebels.  Santa Anna marches into Texas, still assumed to be the ruler of Mexico.

1836 (March 2)  -- declaration of Texas independence. 

1836  (February 23-March 6)  --  death of between 187-250 Texan defenders at the Battle of the Alamo. 

1836 (March 27)  --  Santa Anna executes 350 plus Texan prisoners at the Goliad Massacre.

1836 (April 21)  --  Sam Houston defeats Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto

1836 (April 22)  --  a small band of Texans capture Santa Anna.  Acting Texas president David G. Burnet and Santa Anna sign the Treaties of Velasco that acknowledges Texas independence.  Santa Anna is freed.

In Mexico City a new government declares Santa Anna not to be the president.  (This then nullified the treaty.)  The former president spends some time in exile in the US. 

1837  --  Santa Anna meet with U.S. president Andrew Jackson.  He is taken to Mexico aboard the USS Pioneer.  He retires to a magnificent hacienda in Veracruz, called Manga de Clavo.

1838  --  French forces land in Veracruz as part of an Allied attempt to recover borrowed funds.  Santa Anna fights the French at Veracruz.  Here he loses the lower part of his left leg to cannon fire.  (He orders the leg to be buried with full military honors.)  Even though Santa Anna did not win, he was a hero again. 

1839 (March 20  – July 10)  --  for the fifth time, Santa Anna takes over, this time because of the messy state of affairs under Bustamante's presidency.

In Puebla, the rebel army under Generals Jose Urrea and José Antonio Mexía is defeated by an army led by President Santa Anna. 

Now Santa Anna bans all anti-Santanista newspapers and jails dissidents.

1841 (October 10) - 1842 (October 26)  --  sixth term as president. 

1842  --  failure of a Mexican military expedition into Texas.

Santa Anna meets so much resistance that he steps down as President. 

1843 (March 4  – October 4)  --  seventh term as president. 

1844  -- death of his wife Inés García.  After a few months he marries 15 year old María Dolores de Tosta who survived him.  She has several children by him. 

1844 (June 4 - September 12)   --  eighth term as president.

1845 (January)  --   Santa Anna, fearing for his life, tries to escape capture, but is caught by a group of Indians near Xico, Veracruz.  His life is spared, but he is sent into exile in Cuba. 

1846  --  the US declares war on Mexico. Santa Anna volunteers to come back from Cuba and fight the Americans.  President Valentín Gómez Farías accepts and Santa Anna returns.

Santa Anna now makes a traitorous deal with the US.  He offers to sell Mexican property to the US at a reasonable price.  In return he is let through the US naval blockade around Mexico. But as soon as she was back in Mexico, he reneged on the agreement.  He also declares himself president again.

Santa Anna fails to prevent the US from invading Mexico and capturing Mexico City.  

1847 (March 21 – April 2)  --  ninth term as president.

1847 (May 20  – September 15)  --  tenth term as president.

1851  --  Santa Anna has to go into exile in Kingston, Jamaica.

1853  --  he moves his exile to Turbaco, Colombia.

1853 (April 20 – August 9)  --  eleventh term as president.  Rebellious conservatives have Santa Anna return.  Together they get control of the government.  He takes considerable government funds.  He also sells more territory to the US via the Gadsden Purchase.  And, worst of all for Mexico, he declares himself dictator for life with the title "Most Serene Highness".

1854  --  the Ayutla Rebellion removes Santa Anna from power.

by 1855  --  the conservatives were done with Santa Anna.  A group of liberals (led by Benito Juárez and Ignacio Comonfort) overthrew Santa Anna.  The ex-president once again goes into exile in Cuba. In Mexico the man is tried and found guilty of treason and all his estates are confiscated.

Santa Anna floats around in exile to the US, Colombia, and St. Thomas.

He lived for a while in New York City, USA.  He gambled on cockfights, spending thousands of dollars. 

1874  --  he is able to return to Mexico because of a general amnesty.

1876 (June 21)  --  Santa Anna dies in Mexico City.  By that time he was penniless and almost blind from cataracts.  He was largely ignored while in Mexico in his last years of life. 


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