Que Viva Mexico! is a 1979 documentary that used unseen footage from Sergei Eisenstein’s 1931 expedition to Mexico. The film was constructed with notes and instructions left by Eisenstein after his death. The film used several different “episodes” to portray life in Mexico prior to the Mexican Revolution.
The main conflict in the film was the same conflict that Mexicans experienced in the early twentieth century. The elite Mexican class shared ancestry with Spanish explorers and ruled over those native to the land. Eisenstein shows many different aspects of how Spanish elites ruled over native Mexicans.
One of these scenes shows a native, Sebastian, asking his land owner permission to marry the love of his life, Maria. Since the landowner has power over Sebastian, he refuses to give his blessing, takes Maria for himself and rapes her. Later on, Sebastian decides to save his girlfriend and revolt against the land owner. After a bloody gun battle, Sebastian and his comrades are taken prisoner by the land owner, buried up to their necks in the sand, and then are trampled on my horses. Sebastian, the native Mexican is killed for trying to save his girlfriend from the Spanish land owner.
Catholcism was a big part of the film. Eisenstein shows an Easter celebration where three men are tied together with a cross on their backs, and are marched to a hill. This was used to symbolize Jesus’ crucifixion. Later in the film, Sebastian and his two companions are also tied together and led up a hill to be executed. Unlike the Easter celebration, this was not a ceremony, but an actual execution. Eisenstein uses this comparison to show how Catholicism was a major part of Spanish life.
Another aspect that shows Spanish dominance over the natives involves bullfighting. Bull fighting was a large part of Spanish culture and was brought to Mexico. The fighters dressed very proper and “danced” with bulls in the arena until the bull or bullfighter was killed. Included in this was courting eligible females. This took away from traditional Mexican values and courting rituals, and put Spanish elites back into the forefront of Mexican culture.
Eisenstein uses the tall maguey cactus to symbolize the natives. In the scene with Sebastian fighting the land owner, the natives use the maguey cactus for cover, while the Spanish use horses and armor to evade harm. Eisenstein wanted to show that the maguey cactus was essential for the natives.
Finally, the film shows the future of Mexico, with small children and women being attributed to strength and the new Mexican identity. By the end of the film, the elite Spanish were irrelevent to the national identity of Mexico. Eisenstein leaves the viewer questioning if there is hope for the future of Mexico.