Que Viva Mexico (1931/1979)

Sergei Eisenstein wanted to capture the great culture and society that was Mexico in the early 1930’s. Que Viva Mexico is a series of short films that introduce many unique aspects of Mexico’s history.

In the prologue, Eisenstein shows the Mayan pyramids and the stone faces of their ancient gods. This opening film shows an important aspect of Latin American nationalism and religion. They believed in a connection between the living and the dead. The first film continues to show a funeral of an old Mayan man. In ceremony the deceased is carried to the pyramid by three women and three men. The dead is being carried into the afterlife where his soul will continue to live.     

The next film is about a young woman who is looking to marry. Eisenstein transitions from death to the beginning of life at marriage. This film is very aesthetically pleasing and romantic. The young men are babied by their mothers until they are old enough for marriage, while the girls must complete a gold necklace to complete their dowry. This film shows Mexico as a peaceful civilization, a fact that is negated in the following films.

“Fiesta” is a portrayal of a great bull fight. The fight ends with the bullfighter killing the bull with a sword. The audience is overjoyed from the outcome of the fight proving the power that humans held over animals.

The next film tells the story of Sebastian, who plans a vengeful attack against a landlord. Sebastian, with the help of three of his friends, steals weapons and ammo from the landlord and began firing on them in an attempt to rescue his girlfriend Maria. However their attempt is futile against the horseback soldiers of the landlord. Sebastian and his friends are buried in the ground up to their shoulders and are trampled by horses. The story of Sebastian is a sad one but for many powerless Mexicans their fate was decided by a powerful landlord and his army.

The film is then cut in by Grigori Aleksandrov, a camera man in Eisenstein’s crew, to tell us that this section of the film was to be called “Soldadera”, describing the women during the revolution that followed the soldiers and cared for them. Unfortunately Eisenstein and company ran out of money and had to return to Russia before finishing the movie, thus we will never know how this section of the movie would have been under Eisenstein’s direction.

The last scene describes the Day of the Dead; a festival where the dead are mocked. Children are given sugar skulls to eat and many dress up in skull masks. At the end of the festival many of the masks are removed and we see young children and skulls of dead humans, many are dressed as the elite in society: military uniforms, big hats, and expensive coats. This society wants their children’s future to be a more peaceful than the revolutionary times that their parents grew up in.