Que Viva Mexico! is an episodic film that is interesting for its attempt to document the history of Mexico while contributing its own view of an oppressed people under a series of harsh controlling men- be it a dictator or a plantation owner. Begun in 1930 by a Russian filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein, the film project was not completed until 1979 by an early co-director, Gregori Alexandrov. Eisenstein began the film with a reputation as an avant-garde filmmaker and much of his audience was looking to Que Viva Mexico! as an attack on Hollywood and as support for independent filmmakers. Yet Eisenstein did not create a film that leftists thought was coming. As Chris Robe describes, Eisenstein did not create a film targeting the Catholic church and its consistent use by elites for keeping the lower classes in their place. Instead, Eisenstein saw religion as dangerous when controlled by a few but “liberatory when used by the masses” (Robe, 30). Eisenstein portrays a Mexico that was able to adapt- a nation that took its Aztec traditions and meshed them with Catholicism, building churches from ancient Aztec remnants and bringing bits of its own ritual customs into the Church.
Yet it is incredibly important to realize that the film released by Alexandrov is not the same final product Eisenstein would have constructed. Though he expresses his concern for producing a film as similar as possible to Eisenstein’s view, Alexandrov was simply unable to create the film Eisenstein would have. Yet his scenes containing ideational montage seem in key with the film Eisenstein designed. Particularly the fourth episode, Maguey, uses this film technique to convince its audience of the bloodshed of the Mexican people. As scenes of blood mix hyperactively with white liquid dripping from a maguey cactus, the audience senses a bleeding man and a bleeding Mexico that has been repeatedly controlled by dictators and aristocracy.
And as the film ends, ideational montage plays a critical role showing the Day of the Dead in its influence over Mexicans. While masked, they ridicule death and appreciate those who have passed. Yet, as some take off their masks, the audience sees there are some men made of bones and others of blood and flesh. Those that have repeatedly denounced the Mexican class are the men without substance while the film concludes with a smiling boy- a hope Eisenstein had of a Mexico being built. This Russian filmmaker’s interest in Mexican history and revolution provides an interesting view of a foreign land with in many ways a similar history: an oppressed people lost in the repetition of man’s greed while constantly seeking a humble life.