La casta divina (1977)

 

 

Director:     Julián Pastor.

Starring:     Ignacio López Tarso (Don Wilfrido),  Ana Luisa Peluffo (Tulita),  Pedro Armendáriz Jr. (Abel Ortiz Argumedo),  Tinu Romero (Elide),  Jorge Martínez de Hoyos (Gral Salvador Alvarado),  Sergio Calderon (Padre Chano),  Blanca Torres (Dona Amira),  Jorge Balzaretti (Pancho Peon), Ignacio Retes (Don Emilio),  Alejandra de la Cruz (Matux).

the Yucatán aristocracy on the eve of the Mexican Revolution

 

Spoiler Warning: 

"I found Yucatán in absolute servitude.  Thousands of unfortunates, because of the traditional institutions and such deeply-rooted vices that seemed indestructible, languished from one generation to the next with their life sold to the masters, with the muscles relaxed from enriching the house of the masters and their soul and conscience bound by the invisible iron of a bitter slavery in which they had learned from parents to children that they could only have the dream of joy through alcohol and the hope of freedom through death. 

"I found that the wealth of those good and strong people made for a better destiny, didn't have another base or another origin than that of the Indian's work.  On their misery and their ignorance which they turned into machines for work fabulous capitals had been erected and the fortunes of princes had been earned."

Fragment from "Mi actuacion revolucionaria" by Gral. Salvador Alvarado.

 

A young, semi-nude Indian woman named Matux is washing her hair.  A maid comes in to clean.  The lord of the manor Wilfrido tells Matux to go out the back way so no one will see her.  After Matuxc is gone, the pregnant maid washes the feet of Wilfrido.  While she washes, Wilfrido leans over to put his hand down her blouse to feel her breasts.  The maid just tolerates this behavior. 

As the lord travels past the peasants on a carriage set on a railroad track and pulled by a horse, the peasants have to bow to Wilfrido.  He has with him his son Efrain.  Wilfrido gets off the carriage and speaks to his godson Pancho.  He tells Pancho to tell Father Chano to ring the church bells because the family is in mourning.  Uncle Emilio is not dead, but Wilfrido says that the man will not survive the night.

But Uncle Emilio does survive.  He comments:  "My ancestors would tremble for the luck of my poor and unfortunate Yucatán." 

Wilfrido goes upstairs to tell his wife Amira that they are waiting for her in the chapel.  His wife says she's tired.  (She has been drinking too many alcoholic drinks.) And she asks:  "Who said he was dead?"  Wilfrido says he has a feeling his brother is dead and tells his wife not to contradict him.  A woman at the chapel tells the mourners to pray for the soul of God's dead slave, Jose Emilio.  The whole family is there:  Wilfredo, Efrain, Amira and the two sisters Elide and her sister.

Wilfrido now talks to the peasants working (or slaving) for him.  The land owners are concerned saying that they are going to have a much more difficult time now that the foreigners have invaded the Yucatán.  The foreigners have even snatched the government.  The land owners say that the Yucatán is separate from the rest of Mexico and will be another republic.  They add the the landlords will fight to defend their lands. 

Efrain will be leaving for Mérida to join the forces of the separatist army of the Yucatán.  He adds that many of the young peasant men will be going too.  The ones going will be chosen by the foreman.  Amira is very upset that her young boy is going off to fight. 

At Uncle Emilio's place his wife Engracia is speaking with three wealthy men wearing business suits.  One of the men is the doctor.  Another man, Nicolas, is a cousin of Emilio, and the godfather to Efrain.  The head of a girls' school, Tulita, is there and she says she has to leave now. 

Efrain is leaving.  His father tells his godfather, Nicolas, that he will send the promised laborers tomorrow afternoon.  On the Wilfrido plantation, a peasant named Moises talks with another peasant Justino.  Justino says that many of the peasants are afraid to go to Mérida.  Moises comments that the sosquil is selling well.    (Sosquil is also called sisal hemp, Mexican hemp, grass hemp, henequin and cabulla.  In the Yucatán, by the early 1800s, the commercialization of henequén created great fortunes through the sale of rope and burlap sacks for the maritime trade.)  They say that in Motul, Carrillo Puerto stirs up the people and Progreso will resist the separatists.  Justino tells Moises the he won't be able to help him much longer because the foreman will notice that some of the henequen fiber is missing.  Moises tells Justino to go out and recruit more people for their cause.  Justino says that the people don't trust him.  After all, they killed his father and they still call him a foreigner.  He also tells Moises that he doesn't want to die. 

There are lots of men in uniform milling around.  General Alvarado says he is going to take Mérida from the separatist army, but first there are other things to do before this.  One thing they have to do is reinforce Toribio de los Santos.  And they may have to take some insurrectionist towns, like Halachó and Maxcanu. The General is confident of victory because he says the people will cooperate with the government forces. And what about those of "the divine cast", as the General calls them.  The General says:  "We'll hang them."  Then they will free the laborers from the haciendas.  The peasants will get the crops which they then will work collectively.  The theme will be "land and freedom".  One of his staff asks him about Carranza's reaction  -- won't he be mad?  General Alvarado only says that Carranza is very far away. 

Wilfrido tells his foreman Crisanto that there are too many on the list of peasants going to Mérida.  After all, he says, they will need laborers to harvest the crops.  So for now they will only send 20 young men to Mérida.  The foreman keeps Pancho and Justino as essential people to stay on the hacienda.  The foreman picks the 20 people.  Wilfrido says about the men going to the army that no one will die.  As the 20 leave, Wilfrido says he cares for these young men as if they were his own children.

Wilfrido's two daughters are in the house.  One of the sisters is Elide and she is busy reading the newspaper.  She is scolded by her sister who says that father says they are not supposed to read the newspaper.  Elide just dismisses this as a crazy idea.  In the paper it says that the Yucatán separatist army led by Colonel Ortiz Argumedo overthrew the Carranza authorities in Mérida and took over there.  In addition, after a coup, Gen. Toribio de los Santos flees southward. 

Efrain pays a visit to his Uncle Emilio before he gets involved in combat. 

Elide and her sister go to a girl's school where they have to wear uniforms.  The place is run by Tulita and her sister Beldadcita.  The sister is busy cutting short the hair of the girls.  She is afraid that the government troops will try and rape the girls, but if they dress as men, they may escape that terrible fate.  Tulita discovers one of the girls hiding behind a painting.  She calls the poor girl a whore, a thief and a mule.  The woman is a bit out of control. 

Col. Argumedo tells Nicolas and his godson Efrain that the situation is not very good, but Alvarado doesn't scare him.  Nicolas says there is discontent among the people about having so many sons be taken for the army, but Argumedo says he has to continue recruiting more and more peasants for his army.  Indeed, Argumedo's methods are quite upsetting.  His soldiers just round up people from a town by going door to door through the town streets. 

Nico and Efrain go the the Cuban Consulate.  Many of the Yucatán landlords are planning to leave on a Cuban warship that will pick them up and take them to Havana.  And many of these landlords are hiding their valuables.  The clergy is burying their treasures.  Nico has Efrain place his coins on the bottom of one of his water wells. 

At a night club, Tulita comes in and here she doesn't dress like a nun.  An officer named Max has quick sex with her while both still have their clothes on.  Tulita is acting as a spy for the Yucatán separatist army.  She tells Max to tell others that the land lords and are hiding their money in their wells and gardens. 

A local man Rendon talks with General Alvarado while swimming in a cave pool.  One of the government men says that the Yucatán is a very different place from the rest of Mexico.  Rendon is offended and says that the Yucatán supported the revolution and have sent a lot of pesos to help fight dictator Huerta. 

Col. Argumedo talks to a large group of prisoners who refuse to fight Carranza.  He threatens them, but they don't budge.  So he calls the fellows a bunch of fags and tells the prison guards to take them back to their cells. Now Argumedo goes to a boys' school.  The professor objects against Argumedo's intrusion and he tells him that these boys are too young to be fighting in combat.  Argumedo calls the man a coward and has him arrested and taken away.  His next move is to put all the boys in the military barracks. 

Elide does not want to marry Carlos, who she says is an epileptic.  This doesn't stop her father, however, from conferring with Carlos and his father Ambrosio for Carlos to marry Elide.  Wilfrido just tells Ambrosio to confirm the details with his wife Amira. 

Tulita visits the recovering Uncle Emilio.  She is nervous around him because he has leprosy.  To calm her, he tells her that it is not contagious.  She relaxes.  He gives her a folder which contains a lot of very important family documents.  If he dies, Tulita is to give the documents to Wilfrido. 

The two fathers, Elide and Carlos take a trip in a carriage on rails around the agave fields. 

One of the peasants wants to marry Matux, but with all the problems she has with Wilfrido, she doesn't really know if it will be possible. 

A group of peasants are going to meet at 9 p.m. to take as many supplies as possible from Wilfrido's stores. 

At night Elide does not eat her dinner.  Wilfrido says he is going to bed.  He gets up from the table.  He sees his godson outside and talks to him.  Elide goes to her room.  She goes to sleep, but is awakened by the sound of people arguing.  Pancho tells Matux that Wilfrido asked for her to come to his room.  Matux says that she just doesn't want to go.  She adds:  "Father Chano said the lord's right was only once."  Pancho has to use a bit of force  to get her to go with him.  Elide goes outside to see what is going on with Matux and her father.  She spies on her father.  Matux comes in and her father starts squeezing her breast sand grabbing her groin area through her gown.  He steps back and she starts taking off her clothes until she is completely nude.  Elide is shocked to say the least.

Pancho walks around and hears noise coming from the stores.  He sees a number of peasants stealing various goods.  He goes to tell foreman Crisanto about it, saying that it's Yaqui leading the grabbing.  Crisanto grabs his shot gun and goes with Pancho.  All of a sudden Elide hears firing.  She wonders where it is coming from.  She sees Matux with a sheet wrapped around her body running from her father's room.  The two women stop to look at each other more closely.  Then Elide sees her father run out of his room with a pistol in his hand. 

Efrain visits Uncle Emilio again.  He says he will be going into combat soon. 

The Carranza General Alvarado burns religious painting from a town's cathedral in San Jose.  Rendon goes to General Alvarado and tells him that burning religious paintings does not sit well with the peasants and makes the General look like the devil.  Alvarado isn't concerned calling the peasant stupid. 

 

"Starting in 1915, the government of General Alvarado built more than one thousand rural schools and school orchards.  It founded 100 public libraries, it instituted the School of Agriculture, the School of Arts and Crafts and the School of Fine Arts.  It decreed a new Work Code and acknowledged the judicial character of the worker and artisan cooperatives. It enacted the Agricultural Law of 1916 and the laws known as 'The Five Sisters'. 

1)  Eight hour work days.

2)  Obligatory minimum wage. 

3)  Protection for children and women who work. 

4)  Indemnity for work accidents.

5)  Profit sharing.

Initiation of the law against drinking and prohibited prostitution and gambling. 

He founded in collaboration with Felipe Carrillo Puerto and other liberals from the Yucatán, the Socialist Party of the Southeast." 

 

Under the watchful eye of Wilfrido, Yaqui is given 50 lashes.  This really upsets Elide and she complains to her father that he had told her that they were to look after the peasants, not lash them.  Dad says sometimes it's necessary to punish some of the peasants.  Elide is not satisfied with that answer.  She watches as the foreman now pours a bucket of citrus fruit juice onto the back of Yaqui.  He screams in pain.  Then the foreman grabs handful after handful of salt and rubs it into his wounds.  Yaqui screams again. 

At the theater in Mérida the owner stops a musical to shout out an announcement.  The  troops of Gen. Mendoza have just been defeated at Halachó.  And Alvarado is coming toward them.  He advises the audience to hide because they are hanging all the "fine" people.

Tulita tells a guard at the railway station that she urgently needs to go to Halachó.  The guard advises her not to go there, but she ignores his advise.  She shows the guard a pass given to her by Col. Ortiz Argumedo.  The guard lets her pass. 

Elide's sister begs her mother to stop drinking.  She says the drinking is going to kill her.  Mom only says that we all have to die sometime.

Yaqui tries to kill Wilfrido asl he plays cards with other men.  Wilfrido moves just slightly and the bullet hits a different card player.  Wilfrido grabs his pistol and goes after Yaqui, shooting at him twice.  Elide tells Matux to use this opportunity to escape from the hacienda.  Matux follows her advise.

Tulita arrives at the scene of a battle.  She and her aide start taking valuables off the bodies of the dead soldiers.  As she goes from soldier to soldier, she finds a dead Efrain. 

Yaqui is caught and hanged.  Wilfrido tells Pancho to get him a woman.  A priest hears Wilfrido and tells him that the type of girls that he likes have all run away from the hacienda.  Besides, he tells Wilfrido that he has used up all his rights of the first night. Wilfrido becomes very angry and he shouts at Pancho to get him an old woman then.  Pancho asks his godfather not to yell since everyone will hear him.  So Wilfrido starts pushing Pancho around.  This bothers Elide so much that she holds the top of her blouse open and yells to her father:  "Use your first rights on me!"  This infuriates her father so much that he brutally slaps her across the face over and over again.

A wake is held for Efrailn.  Elide's face is a real mess.  She kisses her brother's forehead, then tells her dad:  "You killed him, father."  Dad ignores her and puts the lid on the coffin. 

Nico talks with Uncle Emilio.  He tells him that Argumedo managed to dynamite the ship Progresso which went down with hundreds of Carranza's infantry men aboard.  He goes on to say that the struggle is now useless.  The people are desperate and the Yucatán army was defeated at Halachó and there was a massacre of their forces at Blanca Flor.  While talking with Uncle Emilio, the older man dies. 

Rendon and the General learn that at 2100 hours, the coastguard vessel Progresso was dynamited by the people of Col. Ortiz Argumedo.   The General now says they will take Mérida without any more bloodshed.

Elide at the girl's school seems to be in some type of trance.  Tulida returns but is soon going out again.  Her sister tells her not to go because it's not safe, but Tulida is not going to listen to her. 

Nico talks with Alberto, asking him what are they going to do now?  He says:  "We are going to hell."   He adds that what they need to do is get their hands on Emilio's document folder, but he took the secret of the hiding place to his grave. 

Two Indian women prepare the body of Uncle Emilio.  They start insulting him and his brother Wilfrido.  One of the women says that Wilfrido got her pregnant and she had a son, named Pancho.  They get so scandalous in their criticisms that they switch to speaking Mayan.  Tulita comes along and scolds them for speaking Mayan.  She refers to them as "shitty Indians".  Sister Beldadcita starts to comfort the disturbed Elide, who is committing mistakes in making her hammock.  But Beldadcita gets a little too friendly with Elide (in a sexual way) and Elide pushes her away.  This infuriates the older woman.  She has the other girls grab her and take her outside.  The girls throw a bucket of water on Elide and then Beldadcita starts slashing at her with a whip. 

Col. Argumedo starts grabbing all of Yucatán's gold reserves.  Nico discovers him in the act and tells Argumedo he is taking everything.  Argumedo doesn't care.  He says he needs armaments and the money to pay for them.  The council ignored his pleas, so he is taking the gold himself.  Nico says it's all over, but Argumedo says that they are definitely not defeated yet.  Argumedo tells Nico not to go home because they searched his house.  He tells Nico that it's funny, but they found the good type of ammunition in his cistern. Then he tells Nico that he better come with them because he is a marked man by being on Alvarado's black list.  But Nico decides to stay where he is.  Not longer after Argumedo and his aide leave, Nico shoots himself in the head with his pistol. 

Tulita packs to leave.  She takes with her two big packs of money and the family documents she was given by Uncle Emilio.  Tulita starts to leave the school, but her sister tries to stop her.  Tulita gets so angry that she uses her satchel to pummel her sister over and over again .  Then she leaves the school.  Beldadcita's face is all bloody now.  The girls just stand there watching all this happen.  They start to go back to their rooms, but stop when they see Elide hard at work on her hammock.

Max comes along in a carriage to pick up Tulita.  With him is one of the bar maids.  Tulita is not happy to see the other woman coming along with them.  Max goes through Uncle Emilio's documents.  He says the money in the folder came from the selling of Mayan slaves. 

Pancho returns to the hacienda.  Wilfrido asks him where is Crisanto?  Crisanto has been hanged along with the priests and other officials.  Pancho also says he heard that they were coming for Wilfrido now.  He tells Wilfrido:  "Godfather, you better talk with them."    Once again Wilfrido loses it, starts shouting "coward" at the young man and begins slashing him with a whip.  He slashes at Pancho over and over again.  Pancho fears for his life and shoots Wilfrido in the chest.  Wilfrido just drops on the ground.  His other daughter sits down on the steps and just watches him as he dies. 

The government army now arrives at the hacienda.  They gather in front of the buildings and then rush in.  They find the landowner shot dead.  The officer in charge tells the daughter:  "We had orders to hang him."  The daughter tells him that here are still some ropes hanging from the bayleaf tree over yonder.  Some soldiers drag the body over to the tree.  The officer now has the priest on the hacienda arrested.  He too is to be hanged. 

The last bunch of "divine people" walk to the Cuban boat that will take them to the warship that will take them, in turn, to Havana.  Two men approach the boat and are informed that there are rumors that Alvarado will enter Mérida in a few hours.  The men are not much concerned with that.  They joke with each other saying that from this moment on, they are the representatives of the Republic of Yucatán in exile.  But, they say, "we will return, you'll see."

"From three cents per pound in 1915 the price of henequen went to 19 cents in 1918.  During that same year the "Cordage Trade Journal" of New York published the following:  President Wilson will send diplomatic representatives to meet with President Carranza to deal with the issue related to the rising of the prices of the Yucatán henequen.  Soon after, Salvador Alvarado received instructions to abandon the government in Yucatán to have a military post in another part of the country.  From 1920 those who had fled to Havana began to return to Mérida."

The last scene is of General Alvarado riding on horse back, and his soldiers walking, through the streets of Mérida. 

 

 

Good movie.  There are not a lot of movies that deal with the upper class and its abuses of power and wealth.   This film, however, does illustrate the abuses of an upper class, this one in the Yucatán.  Even as late as the early 20th century, the landlords in the Yucatán kept their peasants in virtual slavery.  The landlords acted like the lords of the manor, all completed with the right to have first sex with a newlywed woman.  (Of course, our villain, the landowner Wilfrido, does not stop at just newlywed women.)  And it is this continuing problem of racism and its associated abuses that is so important in understanding Mexico.  Racism is the curse of those nations that have it and don't try to destroy the institutions associated with it, such as slavery. 

The wealthy and selfish landowners did not want to share their land with the peasants.  So they opposed the Mexican Revolution and tried to separate from Mexico and become a separate republic. 

The film is cynical, but the cynicism as applied to the Mexican Revolution is truly justified.  The Indians were betrayed and the resulting corruption has made democracy in Mexico not quite achievable. 

Yep, I like the film mainly because it does show the abuses of the less fortunate by those who are powerful and wealthy. 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

General Salvador Alvarado Rubio (1880-1924) participated in support of the Mexican Revolution. He was a general of the army of the Constitucionalistas under the orders of Venustiano Carranza. He took the town of Mérida without bloodshed.  He also was the governor of the Yucatán in 1917.

Abel Ortiz Argumedo was an ex-Huertista colonel who became the military commander of Mérida.  He united the Yucatán militia battalions behind his forces.  Argumedo was the governor of the Yucatán  and also declared the sovereignty of the Yucatán, seeking support from the United States. 

Venustiano Carranza Garza (1859 - 1920) participated in the second stage of the Mexican Revolution, after the assassination of Francisco I. Madero. He managed to oust the government usurper, General Victoriano Huerta. He was President of Mexico from 1917 to 1920. In 1920 he was murdered by troops of General Rodolfo Herreo.

Felipe Carrillo Puerto (1872-1924) was governor of the Yucatán from 1922 to his assassination in 1924. 

General Victoriano Huerta (1850-1916) secretly plotted with U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson, former general Bernardo Reyes, and Félix Díaz (dictator Porfirio Díaz's nephew) to overthrow the liberal Madero government and established a harsh military dictatorship.  He is called "the Jackal"  in Mexico.

Francis I. Madero (1873-1913) participated in the Mexican Revolution and was the liberal president of Mexico 1911-1913 when he was deposed by Huerta. 

Toribio de los Santos was the governor of the Yucatán before the position was taken by Abel Ortiz Argumedo.

 

 

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