Que Viva Mexico
Que Viva Mexico is a Russian made docudrama with early western elements. It gives an outside perspective of Mexico’s rich cultural history and traditions. The movie itself has a rather rich history in that it was originally filmed in 1931 by prominent Russian director Sergei Eisenstein and funded by prominent writer Upton Sinclair, who pulled the funding on film only to have it completed by Eisenstein’s co- director Grigory Alexandrov almost fifty years later. This undoubtedly affects the finished piece in a film critics eyes, but does little to take away from the underlying historical significance of the movies major themes. Hart describes the major theme of the movie as an interplay between life and death.(p.20) I feel this is far to general of a theme and does not do justice to the filmmakers actual intention. Yes, life, death, struggle and oppression have been reoccurring themes in Latin American history, but Eisenstein was examining a diverse early twentieth century society who’s customs, traditions, and culture intrigued him and differed greatly from what he or much of the movie watching world had ever seen. His novellas were aimed at discovering this culture by following its history. His chronological narratives show a culture that has rich ties to its earliest native inhabitants. Many of their traditional ceremonies and celebrations have mystical pagan elements that date back to Mayan times. Que Viva Mexico illuminates how various small agricultural villages such as Tuhuantepec have kept up practices that many civilized cultures might find outdated. Yet in more populated areas we see a culture more heavily influenced by European colonization. The Mayan sacrifices of old were performed to appease the gods, much like the bulls who are sacrificed in honor of the virgin Mary. This was a Spanish tradition that corresponded easily in to Latin American culture. Christianity is devoutly practiced and incorporated into celebrations for its triumph over paganism. But the Spanish imported Christian ideas are often practiced with magical or mystical pagan undertones. They use large amounts of song and dance, do animal sacrifices, have mystical ideas on the dead and ghost, and are heavily reliant on icons for traditional ceremonies. Eisenstein focuses on a culture laden with elements of both Spanish Catholicism and ancient mysticism, coupled with the violence and oppression created by tyrannical colonization. It was that tyrannical colonization followed by oppressive rule that created a culture which is desensitized by violence and more enthralled with the ides of life and death. The final three novellas illustrate this part of society. Mexico’s history is littered with violence, from ancient sacrifices and tribal wars, to the devastation brought on to the local inhabitants by European conquistadors, to the revolution in 1910 brought on by years of poor governing. The movie illustrates elements of life and death throughout. He will show living ancestors of ancient Mayans followed by them holding a dead body signifying the death of part of this culture, the celebration of marriage and childbirth followed by ritual killing, and the sacrifices made by those who revolted in order to give birth to free Mexico. The final novella on the Day of the Dead, does a wonderful job at tying all of these themes together. It encompasses the ideas of a culture created out of a mix of
European Christianity and ancient mysticism, while demonstrating their outlook on life and death stemming from years of violence.