Aug 4, 2014

Review: La otra conquista [The Other Conquest] (1998)

When La otra conquista was released, it was Salvador Carrasco's first feature directorial work. Having done three award-winning short films at NYU beforehand, it's been his main piece of work not counting his writing and producer credits later on. He seems like a guy who's more content working behind the lines as evidenced by his dedication to education as a film professor at different California colleges, which is totally fine as well as the fact that he's never directed a feature film since La otra conquista.

La otra conquista seems like a movie that has had real difficulty getting any actual traction for distribution. IMDb says that it's a 1998 film but Wikipedia says it was released in 1999 in Mexico followed by Los Angeles in 2000. It was later re-released in 2007 in several US cities. So while it did get quite a bit of critical attention, it's not like it was that loved or watched by the general populace, which explains the lack of traction for distribution. With only a pitiful 981 votes on IMDb as I write this, I can tell you that La otra conquista deserves much better than a 6.9 rating.

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Genre: drama, history
Directed by: Salvador Carrasco
Produced by: Alvaro Domingo, Plácido Domingo, Rosalía Salazar, etc.
Written by: Salvador Carrasco
Music by: Jorge Reyes, Samuel Zyman
Running time: 105 minutes
Production company: Carrasco & Domingo Films S.A. de C.V., Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, etc.
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox, Hombre d'Oro, Union Station Media
Country: Mexico
Language: Spanish
Budget: $3,500,000
Box office: $886,410 (USA) / $2,000,000 (Mexico)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Damián Delgado, José Carlos Rodríguez, Elpidia Carrillo, Iñaki Aierra, Honorato Magaloni, Guillermo Ríos, Josefina Echánove, Zaide Silvia Gutiérrez, Álvaro Guerrero, Rufino Echegoyen, Lourdes Villareal, Luisa Ávila, Ramon Barragan, Diana Bracho, José Luis Caro, Martin LaSalle

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Synopsis


Hernando Cortés rode into the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan in 1519, where Emperor Moctezuma of the Aztec made him a guest. Things go south very quickly though resulting in the breaking of the Aztec people. Topiltzin (Damián Delgado) survives a great massacre which causes him to flee and continue the cult of Tonantzin, who is essentially an Aztec mother earth, with a small group of other survivors. They are found by Captain Cristóbal (Honorato Magaloni) and Friar Diego (José Carlos Rodríguez) who both have their own goals in regards to the Aztec people. Topiltzin ends up being taken to a Franciscan monastery to be converted to Christianity.  

Review


What La otra conquista does so well is explore the complicated emotional and psychological effects of colonization as well as forced conversion. I think that we can all agree that what happened to the Aztecs at the hands of the Spanish was pretty horrible. Christian fervor was running high in this time period too obviously and although a man like Friar Diego has good intentions, forced conversion is decidedly wrong. But anyway, the main point of La otra conquista isn't just to say that the Spaniards are bad guys or whatever. It's really all about the effects colonization had on the Aztecs and even the Spanish themselves.

Topiltzin who is later dubbed Tomás really represents the fear, confusion and anger that probably every Aztec went through during this time in history. He's stubborn and refuses to become a Christian even though pretty much everyone else has. Not everyone has the faith that he does but that's why Friar Diego is so desperate to "save" poor Tomás. All the major characters are impacted by the attempted conversion of Tomás and it's really a treat in terms of how well Salvador Carrasco really write this story.

With the small budget that Salvador Carrasco had to work with, he really did impressive work to make it look like a movie at least ten times its cost. The sets are beautiful and the cinematography and editing is outstanding as well. Additionally, Jorge Reyes and Samuel Zyman have put together a really nice score that builds up at all the right moments. Honestly, this is a really well-crafted film that looks nothing like the work of a first time director.

Saying all this makes me sad that there aren't more films that have been directed by Salvador Carrasco. If he's content not doing anymore more films then that's fine. But a film that captures the raw human emotions of colonization as well as La otra conquista are extremely rare. It does such a good job at exposing all of its characters and it just looks good doing it. You can't ask for much more.

Rating


8/10