Que Viva Mexico (1930-79)

Que Viva Mexico is a valuable film for the glimpse that it gives us of Mexico in a time passed. The montage of images that comprise the episodic stories relating to Mexico’s history are fascinating, but the story it tells is oversimplified. The reality of this film is an idealized re-telling of the Mexican story, from pre-Colombian days until after the revolution. Furthermore, the story is filtered through the ideological lens of the Soviet Union.

The film is a sort of Soviet-Hollywood version of history; much as Hollywood recasts history in a way to increase its box-office appeal, this film portrays the past in a way that glorifies international revolution. Whether or not this is director Eisenstein’s intent is debatable, as his control over the film was compromised, and he never got to finish it. Regardless, the version of the film widely available today favors the working class by illustrating their struggle against oppressive hacienda owners, while vilifying Spanish colonial figures by portraying them as skeletons during the “Dia de los Muertos” celebrations.

Regardless of the films political message, it is an interesting depiction of Mexican life. Throughout the film we see glimpses of day-to-day life, as well as a few notable cultural events. The film begins with a montage of images envisioning the ancient Mayans against a backdrop of the pyramids of Mexico, paying homage to Mexico’s past while connecting it to the present. Next is an idealized story about a young couple in Mexico before the arrival of Europeans. The Mexicans during this time enjoy an idyllic life of sleeping in hammocks, harvesting bananas, and trading in the local village. The young woman, Concepcion, is in the midst of assembling a golden necklace, part of an age-old practice whereby a woman works to create a necklace of gold coins, which she gives to the man of her choosing as a dowry (this scene may serve to highlight gender equality in Mexico, an ideal embraced by the Soviets and used as leverage against the West). The next section of the film deals with the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards. It focuses on the new (Christian) religion brought to the Mexicans, and how this is used to subjugate them. Also shown is the bullfight, a hallmark of Spanish imperial culture brought to the Americas. The next part of the film is set at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, under the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. This chapter is important because it describes the Hacienda system, and the conditions that led up to the revolution. In this chapter, poor workers are exploited and abused by corrupt plantation owners, the descendants of the Spanish conquerors. The abuse a young man’s wife leads to a revolt that ends in tragedy. This scene is symbolic of the Mexican peoples struggle for social justice that would culminate in the Revolution of 1910. The final chapter is yet another idealistic portrayal of Mexico, this time in the present, post-revolution era, where all people are equal and happy.

This film is certainly not historically accurate to a T, but it does however reflect an oversimplified vision of Mexican history. Popular sentiments about Spanish conquest and the hundreds of years of oppression are outlined. Furthermore, its portrayal of Mexican culture is fascinating.