The Other Conquest review

:. Director: Salvador Carrasco(II)
:. Starring: Elpidia Carrillo, Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez
:. Running Time: 1:50
:. Year: 1999
:. Country: Mexico

Director Salvador Carrasco's first film, The Other Conquest, has embarked on the North American continent. It is an ambitious film whose greatest failing is that is falls short of being a truly epic picture. This film yearns to be an epic, but ultimately fails to capture the violence surrounding the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521. It does not in any profound spiritual way explain the Spanish conquest over the Aztecs, and the resulting clash and ultimate grafting of two different religions in the form of a Virgin with the Tonantzin, the Aztec mother goddess. Given the recent release and box office flop of The Road to El Dorado (Dreamworks), The Other Conquest does prove that major studios are laughably behind the times and seemingly banking on grade school rhymes of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria to lure the Latino population to theaters.

Damian Delgado plays Topiltzin, a son of Moctezuma, who a few years after the initial conquest of Mexico is one of the few remaining. He has written a codex recounting Aztec history as well as a remaining leader in his faith. He is captured by the Spaniards, but as his noble half sister Tecuichpo (Elpidia Carrillo) has taken up with Cortes (who by now has ditched La Malinche), spares his life but sends him to Fray Diego to be saved and converted. What follows is this “other conquest”, the conquest of the soul. It's the classic drama; fierce proud Indian versus ethnocentric, religous Fray Diego. Topiltzin fiercely resists Fray Diego's attempts, but as he points out to Fray Diego, the two of them are more similar than different in that neither will betray his God. It's a battle of wills that unfortunately is made to carry the entire movie without a deeper exploration into this historic moment of the fusion of two of the world's religions.

The film suggests that the human need for faith is so overwhelming, that man can find surrogate icons in another religion. Tonantzin, the Aztec Mother Goddess, and Maria are the same when viewed from the eyes of the faithful. While we see his devotion to Tonantzin, his desire for the Virgin Mary is rather puzzling. Topiltzin, after years of ignoring Fray Diego is suddenly overtaken by a desire to take the statue from the alter. He ultimately steals her, but for what purpose? To destroy her or to pray to her? Is he conquered or must he conquer her? We never quite know. Further, she survives intact while he perishes instantly. When Fray Diego finds them, he rearranges them to appear united. Again, to what purpose? If the film was to explain the time leading to the first apparitions of the Virgin Guadalupe, then it began with a lie.

Carrasco's direction is uneven—while some surreal, beautiful moments exist and capture an essence, something is missing, and that something is scenes on a grand scale to make this film truly epic. What was needed was a deeper sense of loss and of grandeur. The way it was filmed it was as if there were 20 or so Aztecs and a handful of Spaniards. Further, the lack of light in the film gave me the impression that it was filmed in a confined space. Of course, the oppressive lighting could have been used to the advantage of demonstrating the defeat of the Aztecs, but it does not. The opening sacrifice of an Aztec virgin is quite haunting visually and conveys the sense of faith and family of the Aztecs, and it also serves as an ingenuous counterpoint to the brutality of the Spaniards, who though repulsed by Aztec practices, have no problem justifying their own bloody violence that in one scene involves whipping Topiltzin with a chain and then holding a flame to his open wounds.

The acting is sometimes over opulent for the setting. While Inaki Aierra plays Cortes convincingly as an arrogant Spaniard and Damian Delgado gives Topiltzin grace, they are so locked into a structured, preordained, and sometimes melodramatic script that we do not see anyone fully develop. Fray Diego's character is complex, veering between a man caught between God, gold, and glory in Las Americas but also not hesistant to call the Aztec language the language of dogs and then later guard scraps of the Codex in his Bible.

In short, I wanted more. I wanted to see the tragedy of the Aztec library going down in flames and feel the loss and horror as entire cities were destroyed. By putting the characters in this setting the audience might have a wider vision of the chasm and ultimiate fusion between Aztecs and the Spaniards.

The director's desires are more apparent than what he is able to convey. By leaving an ambiguous ending he leaves the spiritual conquest unexplained.

  Anji Milanovic

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