Cinco de Mayo: La batalla (2013)
Director: Rafa Lara.
Starring: Pablo Abitia (General Mejía), Angélica Aragón (Doña Soledad), Kuno Becker (General Ignacio Zaragoza), Juan Castañón (Soldado guitarrista), Liz Gallardo (Citlali), Ginés García Millán (General Prim), Noé Hernández (Benito Juárez), Mauricio Isaac (Capitán León), Jaramar (Mujer que canta), Pascacio López (General Porfirio Diaz), Daniel Martínez (General Leonardo Márquez), Antonio Merlano (Miguel Zaragoza), William Miller (Conde De Lorencéz), J.C. Montes-Roldan (Teniente Fauvet), Andrés Montiel (General Antonio Álvarez), Jorge Luis Moreno (Sargento Vaché ), Benoit Nordin (Oficial francés #2), Alejandro Peraza (General Carvajal), Luis Rosales (Médico Jóven), Álvaro García Trujillo (Dubois du Saligny), Christian Vazquez (Juan Osorno), Mario Zaragoza (Juan Nepomuceno Almonte).
May 5, 1862 Mexican victory in a battle with the French forces in Mexico
"France is not at war with you, but the Empire. You and I are fighting against the Empire, You, in your country, I, in exile. Brave Mexican men, resist. The attack against the Republic of Mexico is a continuation of the attack against the French Republic." Victor Hugo
Mexico, 1861. A firing squad executes five men.
"After long years of fighting, 'The War of Reform' is over, as Benito Juárez and his Liberal Army defeat the conservative forces. The country is devastated and in bankruptcy. President Juárez is forced to suspend the payment of the external debt. The conservative leaders flee to Europe looking for support for their cause. Meanwhile, in Mexico, they try to regroup their army."
Paris, France, 1861. The Emperor Napoleon III will now speak with three Mexicans: Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, Gutierrez Estrada and Jose Maria Hidalgo. The Emperor tells the three men that he knows about their project to establish a French monarchy in Mexico. He says he will send his French troops commanded by the Count of Lorencéz. This makes the three Mexicans very happy. They leave. Now the Emperor tells his general that "our victory must be fast and blunt". The general says that Mexico is no rival to the French. Mexico will be theirs in a month.
The Emperor says that after the fall of Mexico, the general will take the French army to help the Confederates in the American Civil War. "The future belongs to the French Empire."
Veracruz Harbor, Mexico, 1862. A sleepy guard named Juan wakes up to see many ships arriving in the harbor. Juan wakes his colleague Artemio and they both stare in amazement at the ships. He then tells Artemio that he is going to notify Captain León.
The Captain uses a small telescope and says the ships are from France, England and Spain. And the ships are battleships. "They're invading us."
President Benito Juárez tells his staff that they have already protested and the invaders have stopped, but the situation is still a dire one. Minister Doblado is worried and says: "Our military forces are inferior." The President says that's why they are going to have to use reasoning, not to attack the French, but to defend themselves. Therefore, he is putting General Ignacio Zaragoza, Secretary of War, in charge of the defense.
Zaragoza's wife, who is sick and in bed, tells him that he must go. She says: "Don't let them take our country from us." He replies: "I won't."
The troops of the enemy are getting sick. One of the doctors tells the Spanish General Prim: "This infernal weather is breaking our soldiers!" Prim says he will consult with the allies and then ask the Mexicans if they can move their troops onto Mexican land.
The Mexicans are preparing defensive positions.
Orizaba. Gen. Prim tells Minister Doblado that they are here to help the Mexican people. They only want to make sure that the Mexican debt will be guaranteed. The other two allied representatives are Saligny and Commodore Dunlop. Doblado is worried. He protests to Prim that they agreed to a limited amount of troops on Mexican land, but the number of troops is much more than they agreed upon. Prim says that their troops are suffering from black vomit and have to be on land, but he says they can sent half of the troops back to Veracruz.
Zaragoza is handed a letter from Prim saying that their troops are here to demand satisfaction for Mexico's past affronts and to get guarantees for the future. The general says to his aide Miguel: "They are here to get their money the nasty way." Zaragoza says they are not ready to fight the French so he wants to move their forces and supplies to Chalchicomula. Oaxaca Division and Gen. Porfirio Diaz will move forward.
Miguel says he has more bad news for Zaragoza. His wife Rafaela died yesterday of pneumonia.
One month later. Charles Ferdinand Latrille, Count of Lorencéz, announces that he's landing with eight battleships and 5,000 armed men. Prim asks the two other national representatives why bring in more troops and a war commander? The Count says that they were invited by their Mexican friends. The group is interrupted by the arrival of Lt. Fauvet. He brings the Count updated geographic charts from the coast to Orizaba.
The Mexican conservatives are gathering all their forces together and they will join with the French forces. Gen. Leonardo Márquez is their leader.
Chalchicomula, state of Puebla. Mexican General Antonio Álvarez arrives. Another soldier greets him and tells him that he and his group come from Perote. The General tells him to join the Oaxaca Division. He adds: "We are 1,200 men." [The Oaxaca Division are the heroes of '47 and the War of Reform.]
Prim objects that the French are invading Mexico. The Count tells him that Almonte, the son of the Mexican hero of independence, Morelos, wants a European empire. Prim says those Mexicans who want this are the exiles of Mexico. Spain and England don't like the idea of France grabbing Mexico for themselves. The two nations have treaties with Mexico. The Spanish Prim tells the Count that Spain and England will pull out of the expedition. The Count says the French will march over Mexico.
In Chalchicomula there is a huge explosion and fire. This explosion is followed by other explosions. A lot of people have been wounded or killed. Someone has blown the gunpowder up. The entire Oaxaca division is destroyed.
Gen. Zaragoza arrives in Chalchicomula. He learns that there have been more than 1,500 casualties, including women and children. In addition, they have lost almost all their weapons, gunpowder and horses. Zaragoza decides to move the rest of the troops to the town of Puebla. He says they will try to hold the invaders back on the crossing of the Acultzingo Summit. [West and southwest of Orizaba are mountains. Today highway Rt. 150 goes through the mountains. In the mountains near the western border of Vera Cruz and Puebla is Acultzingo.]
The President of Mexico decides to have the people abandon the cities that the French army may occupy. Every male from age 20 to 60 will have to be soldiers.
Gen. Leonardo Márquez and his 7,000 troops now put themselves at the disposal of Napoleon III and the French Empire. The General is known as the "Tiger of Tacubaya". He meets French Ambassador Dubois de Saligny.
The conservative Mexican generals meet with the French Count. The Count says the fastest way to get to Puebla is through the Acultzingo Summit. Altamonte speaks up and says it's also the most dangerous way to Puebla. Márquez says his troops are on the west side of the Summit. Perhaps they could cooperate and catch the Liberal forces at the Summit. In private the Count tells Lt. Fauvet to set up and advanced party on the other side of our line of attack. They will meet on the battlefield.
Acultzingo Summit. April 28. The battle begins. Both sides shoot at each other, then the Mexican cavalry attack the French. The French, however, have their cannons right behind their first line of offense. The Mexican cavalry has to retreat as fast as they can to avoid annihilation. The French start moving forward even though the Mexicans estimate that the French have lost 10 men for every Mexican lost. Zaragoza says they will retreat as darkness falls. Porfirio Diaz urges Zaragoza to counter-attack, but Zaragoza says from the beginning, he knew this position was lost. They are moving to Puebla and Diaz will cover their backs.
The battle continues. The count is happy because he sees a French victory. He adds: "This is just the prelude of what is going to happen in Puebla."
Soldier Juan tells soldier Artemio that they can't possibly defeat the French. So what are they doing here? A courier arrives to say that the French defeated the Mexicans at Acultzingo. Then the courier dies. Juan and Artemio get the job of burying the courier. As they dig the grave, Juan says he's quitting and going back to their hometown. Artemio tells Juan that he is a coward. Juan also tells the girl he likes, Citlali, that he is going to desert. Citlali asks Juan to take her with him. She has no home and no one, since her aunt was killed at Chalchicomula. And, besides, she has seen too much killing and has had enough of war. Juan says okay. Now he tells Artemio goodbye and good luck.
Artemio without Juan sticks out like a sore thumb. An officer tells Artemio to go find his partner and bring him back, or else he will find Juan himself and he will have both Juan and Artemio executed, one for desertion and one for covering up the desertion.
Lt. Fauvet finds deserted Mexican villages with no water or food available. The French set fire to all the structures and then leave. A bit later Juan and Citlali arrive at the burned out village. They are hungry and thirsty. Juan goes to check out a barn leaving Citlali behind. The French, however, are still around. Lt. Fauvet is going to rape her. Someone shoots one of the French soldiers. The Frenchmen start running around trying to find the shooter. Meanwhile, Juan comes and saves Citlali.
The mysterious soldier turns out to be Artemio. The French catch him, beat him and stake him to the ground. The Lieutenant says they are going to have fun with this Mexican. The poor man is drawn and quartered.
Juan and Citlali come out of hiding and cautiously walk around. They come upon Artemio's mutilated body hanging from a tree. Citlali screams. They bury Artemio and cover his grave with stones. And now Juan decides to go back to the army. He will join it in Puebla. He calls himself a coward, but Citlali says he's not a coward for he saved her life.
City of Puebla. Fort Guadalupe. Private Juan Osorno reports to the Captain. He tells the Captain about what happened to Artemio. The Captain starts to get mad at Juan, but Juane says there's no time for that. "We saw a group of Conservative soldiers on the road to Atlixco." There are more than 5,000 of them.
Zaragoza is told about Márquez and he tells his staff that Generals Carvajal and O'Horan are already in place. They have 3,000 men and will confront Márquez at Atlixco. General Mejia is worried saying that the need those 3,000 soldiers to help them face the French, because Zaragoza only has 2,000 men. Zaragoza tells Mejia that if they don't stop Márquez before the French arrive, the combined enemy force could surround the entire Mexican army. Now Zaragoza thanks Juan for his useful information.
May 3. Zaragoza gets a report that the French are moving so fast that they will be in Puebla in one day. The General tells his people that the battle will not be on the 6th. It will be on Cinco de Mayo.
The French arrive on the scene. They talk about Forts Loreto and Guadalupe being the only obstacles between the French and Mexico City. The Count says tomorrow the forts will be in ruins.
Atlixco, state of Puebla. May 4 at night. Márquez and his troops are on the move. His forces suddenly run into an ambush.
At dinner, the Count brags that he is already the Lord and Master of Mexico.
Citlali asks Juan to return to her safe and sound. He promises her.
May 5, 1862. The Count gets the bad news. Márquez and his men were taken by surprise and dispersed. The Count is disappointed, but he is still, despite Altamonte's pleas, determined to go ahead with a frontal assault on the two forts.
Zaragoza gives a good speech to fortify the fighting spirits of the Mexican troops.
The Count says they will concentrate on Fort Guadalupe first. Lt. Fauvet will attack from the north side. Benoit will be in charge of the artillery.
General Mejia is in charge of Fort Guadalupe. Another General tells Zaragoza that the French are dividing their forces into two parts. They're surrounding the fort.
The French canons open fire on the Mexicans in the field before their fort. The Count observes that the canon is not being effective. He gives the oder to move the artillery forward and let the infantry attack the Mexicans with all their strength.
The Mexican artillery is doing better, hitting its targets. Juan has not been fighting as of yet. The two armies engage in some hand-too-hand fighting. An enemy soldier suddenly jumps on Juan and the latter now has to fight for his life. He gets some help from someone behind the enemy soldier who knocks the man off Juan. Juan now grabs a stone and over and over and over keeps smashing it into the head of the enemy soldier. He's lucky he doesn't get stabbed from behind.
Now Juan grabs a machete and hacks a French soldier several times. The Mexican artillery is killing a lot of Frenchmen.
The French force the Mexicans back. Then the Mexican cavalry goes into action. The French officers command their troops to fall back.
Almonte tells the Count that they must consider a retreat. The Count furiously rejects the very idea of the French army being defeated by a bunch of peasants. It starts raining hard.
The Mexicans have stopped the second attack and expect there will be a third one too. General Diaz suggests that they attack the enemy first and take them by surprise. Zaragoza rejects the idea saying they neither have the men or the ammunition to attack the enemy.
The Count rejects the fact that his men are exhausted. He orders his sergeant to attack Fort Guadalupe with all the strength they have!
The French begin the attack. The Mexican doctor Ruiz is shot in the back and goes down. The attack threatens to be successful. The Mexicans have to engage in considerable hand to hand combat to stop the French from overrunning their positions.
Almonte sees the French making progress and says: "Finally." The French reach the walls of the fort and start climbing the ladders they brought with them.
Now General Fauvet loses a major part of his right leg and is down. The Mexican cavalry attacks the French infantry. The infantry breaks and they start running for their lives. And soon the Count has to order a full retreat. The Mexican cavalry cuts down a lot of the fleeing Frenchmen. Almonte is stunned by the turn around in favor of the Mexicans.
The Mexicans stop chasing the French and shout victory slogans in their happiness and pride. News reaches the infirmary that the Mexicans have won the day. Citlali is so relieved and happy. Zaragoza says: ". . . today our National Army has covered itself in glory."
Citlali goes looking for Juan and she finds him. He is badly wounded, but still alive.
"Five months later, General Ignacio Zaragoza died unexpectedly of typhoid fever in the city of Puebla. He was 33 years old. His mortal remains are in the same grave alongside those of his wife Rafaela. Along with other generals, Porfirio Díaz continued fighting against the French, and his military victories were the key to expel them from Mexico in 1867. The Count of Lorencéz was dismissed by Napoleon III after his humiliating defeat in the battle of Puebla. Mexico's victory was highly celebrated in the United States, because it thwarted Napoleon III's projects to support the Confederate Secessionist Army of the South. President Abraham Lincoln congratulated and thanked Benito Juárez by offering his support to expel the French invaders."
Good movie. Good telling of the basic facts of the Cinco de Mayo victory of the Mexicans over the French army. This was actually the second French invasion of Mexico. The first invasion was in 1838-1839. The stories in the film are interesting and the history is great. Could you expect much better? Probably not. The acting was good and the battle scenes tough and bloody. Oh, you must realize that this one battle was followed by many more before the Mexicans finally saw the withdrawal of all the French troops out of Mexico. The French left Mexico City on February 5, 1867. French Emperor Maximilian was executed on 19 June, 1867 on the Cerro de las Campanas, a hill on the outskirts of Querétaro.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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