Los Angeles Times

The Other Conquest


Wednesday April 19, 2000

     Salvador Carrasco's "The Other Conquest," or "La Otra Conquista," is a boldly imaginative and enthralling evocation of the bloody aftermath of the 1521 Spanish conquest of Mexico that has become the highest-grossing drama ever in Mexico.
     In his bravura feature debut, Carrasco has created nothing less than a dazzling vision of the birth of a uniquely Mexican religion born of the searing fusion of Catholic and Aztec deities. This epic film is an impassioned assertion that the proud Aztec spirit lives on in Mexico's culture despite the horrific efforts of the conquistadors and their priests to eradicate every vestige of the Aztec heritage of the vanquished natives.
     When Hernando Cortes and his small army arrived in 1519, they were welcomed by the Emperor Moctezuma, who thought the Spaniard might be the white-skinned god Quetzalcoatl, whose return had been prophesied. Such imperial hospitality allowed Cortes, who was greedy for gold, the opportunity to take Moctezuma captive, ransack and destroy his country and all but wipe out his people. It is believed that, in the century after the conquest, 90% of the native population, estimated between 12 million and 25 million, perished. In central Mexico alone, some 8 million people died within the conquest's first decade, the vast majority succumbing to disease transmitted by the Spaniards.
     As the movie's story unfolds, by June 1526 the Spanish conquest was virtually complete when the brutal, sadistic Captain Cristobal Quijano (Honorato Magaloni) comes upon a sacred human sacrifice ceremony underway within the ruins of the Great Temple. Conducting the ceremony is Topiltzin (Damian Delgado), son of Moctezuma and his favorite mistress, both already dead at the hands of the Spaniards.
     Participating in the ritual are Topiltzin's grandmother (Josefeina Echanove) and his treacherous brother (Guillermo Rios). Being sacrificed is a beautiful princess (Luisa Avila) whose desire to be with the Aztec mother goddess Tonantzin in spirit is greater than her desire to be with Topiltzin, who with his grandmother's encouragement, has created a codex recording the history of the Aztecs.
     When Quijano launches a deadly attack on the small group, the priest, Fray Diego (Jose Carlos Rodriguez), protests, saying, "You're behaving like them." Precisely: As repugnant as ritual human sacrifice is to the European mentality, the conquistadors would prove themselves far more savage than the Aztecs. And while Fray Diego might protest man's inhumanity to man, he would swiftly become obsessed with converting Topiltzin, whom he renamed Tomas, to Christianity.
     Topiltzin most likely would have faced execution upon his capture had not Cortes (Inaki Aierra) taken as his mistress Topiltzin's half-sister Tecuichpo (Elpidia Carrillo). As the eldest daughter of Moctezuma, she had become the wife of her father's short-lived successor to the Aztec throne and persuades Cortes to spare her half-brother. After beatings from Quijano, Topiltzin is sent to a monastery and turned over to Fray Diego for conversion, which Cortes insists must be authentic and not just a matter of appearances.
     Carrasco opens his film with a grand flourish of melodrama, so fevered and intense as to draw comparisons with heady silent epics. Aierra's Cortes couldn't be more dashing, arrogant--or humorless. All these florid histrionics, staged amid much grandeur, create a vital and tempestuous prologue for the protracted struggle of wills between the proud, intellectual Topiltzin and the compassionate but relentless Fray Diego.
     Small, sinewy and dark, and with a profile lifted from a pyramid hieroglyph, Delgado--a dancer as well as actor--has a galvanic presence and tremendous physical grace and discipline that enable him to bring Topiltzin alive in all his fierce pride, brilliance and iron will; "The Other Conquest" would be unthinkable without him, and he and Rodriguez, whose Fray Diego has the pained expression of countless religious martyrs, create the dramatic tension that sustains this most ambitious, stylized film.
     "The Other Conquest" (whose title refers to the attempt to conquer the realm of the spirit along with the conquest of territory) has much visual splendor and haunting images and emotions, expressed further in Samuel Zyman's symphonic score, counterpointed with Jorge Reyes' indigenous compositions. The production design of Andrea Sanderson (who is also Carrasco's wife) and Rocio Ramirez's Aztec costumes and Angela Dodson's Spanish attire complete the film's aura of magnificence, which in turn is captured in all its beauty and elegance by Arturo de la Rosa's rich, glowing camera work.
     From all this emerges an element of magic realism in Carrasco's profound vision of suffering and redemption, one that illuminates the film's glowing, transcendent spirituality. Alvaro Domingo, Carrasco's producing partner, served as the producer of the film, and the executive producer is opera star Placido Domingo, Alvaro's father.
     Carrasco suggests that spiritual longing is as universal as it is deep, and Topiltzin does in fact come to see in a statue of the Virgin Mary the embodiment of Tonantzin, whom he worships. He can accept the Virgin but not surrender either his strength of will or his spirit to her, a stance that will set in motion Topiltzin's ultimate gesture--the beginning of the Christian-Aztec religious fusion that would soon culminate in an apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe. A Virgin Mary with Aztec features, the Virgin of Guadalupe would become the supreme expression of Mexican cultural identity and the patron saint of the continent.

The Other Conquest, 2000. R, for scenes of violence and some strong sexuality/nudity. An Hombre D'Oro presentation of a Carrasco & Domingo Films presentation. Writer-director-editor Salvador Carrasco. Producer Alvaro Domingo. Executive producer Placido Domingo. Cinematographer Arturo de la Rosa. Music Samuel Zyman and Jorge Reyes. Aria "Mater Aeteerna" performed by Placido Domingo. Costumes Rocio Ramirez and Angela Dodson. Music supervisor/production designer Andrea Sanderson. Art director Brigitte Broch. Set decorator Rona De Angelo. In Spanish and Nahuatl, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog. John Tormey as Louie. Sonny Valerio as Cliff Gorman. Frank Minucci as Big Angie. Richard Portnow as Handsome Frank. Tricia Vessey as Louise Vargo. Henry Silva as Ray Vargo. Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich. Albert Finney as Ed Masry. Aaron Eckhart as George. Marg Helgenberger as Donna Jensen. Cherry Jones as Pamela Duncan. Peter Coyote as Kurt Potter. Shane West as Ryan. Jodi Lyn O'Keefe as Ashley. Marla Sokoloff as Maggie. Richard Schiff as Gym coach. Aaron Paul as Floyd. Chris Klein as Kelley. Leelee Sobieski as Samantha. Josh Hartnett as Jasper. Michael Rooker as Jasper's father. Roshan Seth as Gustad Noble. Om Puri as Ghulam. Soni Razdan as Dilnavaz Noble. Naseeruddin Shah as Jimmy Bilimoria. Margherita Buy as Caterina. Silvio Orlando as Ernesto. Carolina Freschi as Teresa. Alessandro di Natale as Gabriele. Billy Crudup as Fielding Pierce. Jennifer Connelly as Sarah Williams. Janet McTeer as Caroline Pierce. Hal Holbrook as Isaac Green. Cameron Van Hoy as Stevie. Mischa Barton as Rocky. Burt Reynolds as Daniel Bender. Adam Farrar as Wheelchair Man. Nancho Novo as Max. Cayetana Guillen Cuervo as Monica. Ingrid Rubio as Yeye. Beatriz Santiago as Maria. Gustavo Salmeron as Alberto. Mohsen Ramezani as Mohammad. Hossein Mahjub as Hashem. Salime Feizi as Granny. Elham Sharim as Hanyeh. Farahnaz Safari as Bahareh. Aidan Gillen as Francis. Emmanuelle Seigner as Gloria. Susan Tyrrell as Sal. Mark Boone Jr. as Vic. Joshua Jackson as Luke McNamara. Paul Walker as Caleb Mandrake. Hill Harper as Will Beckford. Leslie Bibb as Chloe. Craig T. Nelson as Litten Mandrake. Jimmy Smits as Arturo Ortega. Maria Del Mar as Rita Ortega. Jon Seda as Sonny Ortega. Clifton Collins Jr. as Jimmy Ortega. Ernesto Hernandez as Johnny Ortega. Ron Perlman as Nick Everson. John Cusack as Rob. Iben Hjejle as Laura. Todd Louiso as Dick. Jack Black as Barru. Lisa Bonet as Marie De Salle. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Charlie. Voice Talent as . Kevin Kline as Tulio. Kenneth Branagh as Miguel. Rosie Perez as Chel. Armand Assante as Tzekel-Kan. Edward James Olmos as The Chief. Scott Caan as Scotty. Robert Downey Jr. as Terry. Stacy Edwards as Sheila. Gaby Hoffman as Raven. Jeanie Dryden as Patsy. Linal Haft as Vic. Russell Dykstra as Bo. Genevieve Lemon as Josie. Sacha Horler as Nadia. Alicia Talbot as Vera. Rachel Griffiths as Pamela Drury. David Roberts as Robert Dickson. Sandy Winton as Ben. Yael Stone as Stacey. Floriane Daniel as Rebecca. Heino Ferch as Marco. Ulrich Matthes as Rene. Marie-Lou Sellem as Laura. Josef Bierbichler as Theo. Sandrine Bonnaire as Marie. Oleg Menchikov as Alexei. Catherine Deneuve as Gabrielle. Sergei Bodrov Jr. as Sacha. David Arquette as Gordie. Scott Caan as Sean. Oliver Platt as Jimmy King. Bill Goldberg as Goldberg. Rose McGowan as Sasha. David Duchovny as Bob Rueland. Minnie Driver as Grace Briggs. Carroll O'Connor as Marty O'Reilly. Robert Loggia as Angelo Pardipillo. Ian Holm as Joe Gould. Stanley Tucci as Joseph Mitchell. Patricia Clarkson as Vivian Marquie. Hope Davis as Therese Mitchell. Susan Sarandon as Alice Neel. Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Hays Hodges. Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Terry Childers. Guy Pearce as Maj. Mark Biggs. Bruce Greenwood as William Sokal. Blair Underwood as Capt. Lee. Ben Kingsley as Ambassador Mourain. Paul Newman as Henry. Linda Fiorentino as Carol. Dermot Mulroney as Wayne. Om Puri as George Khan. Linda Bassett as Ella Khan. Jimi Mistry as Tariq Khan. Raji James as Abdul Khan. Ben Stiller as Jake. Edward Norton as Brian. Jenna Elfman as Anna. Anne Bancroft as Ruth. Sandra Bullock as Gwen Cummings. Viggo Mortensen as Eddie Boone. Dominic West as Jasper. Diane Ladd as Bobbie Jean. Elizabeth Perkins as Lily. Steve Buscemi as Cornell. Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman. Willem Dafoe as Donald Kimball. Jared Leto as Paul Allen. Reese Witherspoon as Evelyn Williams. Samantha Mathis as Courtney Rawlinson. Chloe Sevigny as Jean. Damian Delgado as Topiltzin/Tomas. Jose Carlos Rodriguez as Fray Diego. Elpidia Carrillo as Tecuichpo/Don~a Isabel. In~aki Aierra as Hernando Cortes.

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