THE OTHER CONQUEST (LA OTRA CONQUISTA)
Who is converting whom?
Starring: Damian Delgado, Jose Carlos
Rodriguez, Elpidia Carrillo, &
Genre: Historical drama
Runtime: 94 minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Salvador Carrasco
Executive Producer: Placido Domingo
Producer: Alvaro Domingo
Writer: Salvador Carrasco
Address Comments To:MR. TOM SHERAK, Chairman, 20th Domestic Film Group
20th Century Fox Film Corp
A Division of Fox, Inc.
10201 West Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
The movie narrative quickly establishes several important historical points. First, 1519, the date Cortez entered Mexico, and the fact that within two years Cortez with 300 men destroyed the Aztec empire. Next, 1540 in Spain, where Cortez’s friar, Diego, is oppressed by visions of the conquests and the conversion of Topiltzin. Then, the movie settles down to explore Diego’s attempts in 1526 to convert Topiltzin, whom he names Thomas. Keeping these facts in mind guides the viewer through the complex plot.
The action opens in May 1520, one year after the Spanish Conqueror Hernando Cortés' arrival in the vast Mexican Empire just after famous massacre of the Aztecs at the Great Temple of Mexico. The Temple grounds are covered with bodies slaughtered by the Spanish Armies. The lone Aztec survivor is a young Indian scribe named Topiltzin (Damián Delgado), who is the illegitimate son of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma. The young man rises from among the dead to find his mother murdered, the Spanish in power and the dawn of a new era in his native land. To preserve his peoples history, Topiltzin begins sketching an Aztec Codex about the Spanish conquest.
After he sketches the Codex, Topiltzin hides the manuscript in a chamber beneath the Temple, underneath the Aztec goddess of life and death. Then, Topiltzin and a small group of Aztecs sacrifice a beautiful virgin (and Topiltzin's beloved) to protect appease the gods and protect the Temple chamber.
A small band of Spaniards catches the Indians ripping the heart out of the naked virgin. They kill a couple of the Aztecs, knock over the Aztec goddess statue and capture Topiltzin and his brother. Then, they replace the Aztec statue with a statue of the Virgin Mary, whom they proceed to venerate.
Topiltzin is horrified, but Father Diego thinks that Topiltzin is experiencing a conversion to Mary. Suddenly, Topiltzin hits Diego with a rock and escapes. The Spaniards eventually catch Topiltzin by bribing his brother and bring Topiltzin before Cortez.
Cortz tries to interrogate Topiltzin, but Cortez’s translator is Topiltzin’s half-sister, whom Cortez has named Dona Isabel. Isabel, in Aztec, tells Topiltzin to keep quiet and, instead of translating Cortez’s questions, tries to conspire with Topiltzin against Cortez. She convinces Cortez that Topiltzin should be left alive because, if Topiltzin, a royal son of Moctezuma, is converted to Christianity, then it will be easier to convert the remaining Aztecs and other Indians.
Cortez concedes to Isabel's demands and mitigates Topiltzin's sentence to public whipping. This whipping is cruel in the extreme, and Topiltzin's brother beccomes so upset that tries to rescue Topiltzin and is decapitated.
Five years later in 1526, Topiltzin, now named Thomas, is sequestered in the monastery run by Father Diego. Isabel comes to visit him for the explicit purpose of forging Cortez’s signature on a letter to the Spanish king to take revenge on Cortez. She also fornicates with Topiltzin/Thomas, in a very pornographic scene, so that the Aztec royal line will not die out.
Father Diego discovers her treachery, and Isabel is imprisoned by Cortes. Eventually, she takes her own life and the life of her baby in the wound.
Diego senses that Topiltzin/Thomas intends to desecrate the statue of the Virgin Mary in an act of rebellion. Clearly, Topiltzin sees the statue of the Virgin as a symbol of the Spanish Conquest. As Topiltzin/Thomas is dragging the heavy statue of Mary to his chambers, it falls on him and kills him.
THE OTHER CONQUEST is a finely crafted movie which is being touted as revisionist history - a rewriting of Mexican history from the point of view of those who were conquered.
However, it must be noted that the movie portrays both the Spaniards and the Aztecs as vile. Even so, the scene of ripping out the bloody, beating heart of the Aztec virgin, shows the Aztecs as much worse than the Spaniards.
(Thankfully, the movie does not portray the sacrifice of 20,000 Indians people when Moctezuma was crowned Aztec emperor. Their hearts were ripped out on top of the Temple, and then the bodies were cannibalized for meat.)
The movie portrays evil with a certain cinematic art that lessens the moral perspective, almost like a historical TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. The movie implies that these people are nice, even though they do these vile things.
Ultimately, however, the movie is not a political revision, it is a revision of the Christian faith. The focus is on the Aztec goddess and the Virgin Mary, who is continually being honored as the mother of God. Misinterpreted, this appellation denies the self-existing theistic nature of God and perverts the Christian faith. In the final, the Aztec goddess of life and death is metaphorically merged with the Virgin Mary. Then, a synchronistic superstition emerges, which is commended in the movie by Father Diego, although in real life it has led millions astray.
There are several points in the movie where Christian virtues are lifted up, but these are rare. Father Diego, the author of these perspectives, eventually succumbs to the synchronism. And, regrettably, the truth that Jesus offers the only salvation, is never explained.
Some reviewers have likened this movie to BRAVEHEART and SCHINDLER’S LIST, but only because they don’t understand redemption or theology.
The direction is powerful and the acting brilliant, especially by Damian Delgado, as Topiltzin. The only weak point is the casting of Cortez. He does not seem to have the strength of character to have conquered the Aztec nation, especially since Isabel manipulates him so easily.
The bottom line is that THE OTHER CONQUEST will not revise the history of the conquest of Mexico, but it will endorse a false religious faith. The question posed by the movie becomes: Who is converting whom?
THE OTHER CONQUEST includes graphic violence and explicit sex and nudity. Although Christian virtues are sometimes lifted up, the truth about Jesus Christ is never explained. In the end, the Aztec goddess of life and death is merged with the Virgin Mary, an evil perversion of the Christian faith. Even Father Diego succumbs to this syncretism. Thus, although the direction is powerful and the acting is brilliant, this movie endorses a false religious faith that has led millions astray.