The Other Conquest (la Otra Conquista)

on May 04, 2007 by Luisa F. Ribeiro
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   The inevitable tragedy and ruthlessness inherent in the conquest of one people by another lies at the heart of the vibrant yet ultimately depressing feature film debut by Salvador Carrasco in "The Other Conquest (La Otra Conquista)". Set in the mid-16th century just after the arrival in Mexico of Spain's Hernando Cortes, the clash of cultures between the Spanish and the Aztec natives boils down to a fierce conflict between two powerful personages as Catholic Friar Diego unrelentingly attempts to impose the church's will on Topiltzin, the proud, defiant bastard son of Aztec emperor Moctezum. An impressive, beautifully visual film, it nevertheless suffers from excessive solemnity and an inability to breathe new life into long familiar themes (the protest of the noble savage, the maddening contradictions of religion).

   A brutal massacre of Aztecs priests and nobility at their Great Temple leaves only one survivor, scribe Topiltzin (Damian Delgado), who awakens to discover his world literally turned upside down. Taken into custody by Cortes' soldiers, with whom a young priest, Friar Diego (Jose Carlos Rodriguez), travels, Topiltzin is brought before the infamous conqueror Cortes and saved only by the intervention of his half-sister, Tecuichpo (Elpidia Carrillo), Cortes¹ mistress. Soon a battle of wills begins in earnest as Topiltzin resists all manner of horrendous torture rather than abandon his people's primitive faith.

   Even after outwardly taking on the mantle of priestly robes and the domed friar hair cut, Topiltzin (patronizingly stripped of even his name and re-christened Tomas), continues to resist Friar Diego's dogged attempts to convert him. Inevitably, Topiltzin's determination affects the young friar, but the tragic inevitability of the Aztec's capitulation weighs down each of his desperate attempts with a fatal sense of despair.

   Director Carrasco has a painterly eye for his subject and lovingly sets up each view of Indian life with perfect lighting and use of color. Early on, however, the precise visual symmetry proves distracting, taking away from the power of the scenes themselves. The same can be said of the many symbolic moments (the pinnacle of which is the statue of the Virgin Mary that obsesses Topiltzin), which Carrasco seems unable to get beyond in order to reveal the greater complexities and contradictions of the narrative.

   Delgado, with his lithe, slender dancer's figure, captivates with his dark, fearless stare, and Rodriguez equally transfixes in his struggles to maintain his own soul while fighting for that of Topiltzin. The closing credits feature an aria written by Carrasco and Samuel Zyman and sung by executive producer Placido Domingo.    Starring Damian Delgado, Jose Carlos Rodriguez and Elpidia Carrillo. Directed and written by Salvador Carrasco. Produced by Alvaro Domingo. An Hombre d¹Oro release. Historical drama. Spanish-language; subtitled. Running time: 108 min.

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