Juan Moreira (1973)




Director:    Leonardo Favio. 

Starring:     Rodolfo Bebán (Juan Moreira), Pablo Cumo, Osvaldo De la Vega, Augusto Kretschmar, Alba Múgica (The Dead), Carlos MuZoz (MaraZón), Elcira Olivera Garcés (La Vicenta), Eduardo Rudy (Teniente Alcalde), Edgardo Suárez (El Cuerudo), Elena Tritek (Laura), Héctor Ugazzio, Jorge Villalba (Andrade).

an outlaw, gaucho (cowboy) and folk-hero, c. 1874


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Late last century Argentine politics were going through violent times.  Bartolome Mitre's nationalist politicians contended for office with the federals, led by Adolfo Alsina.  In the meantime, the Argentine gaucho was discriminated against, even persecuted and served as workers or instruments for the Chief of the day (caudillos).  The protagonist of our story is a painful synthesis of those days.  This the life, passion and death of Juan Moreira. 

Men are digging up the make-shift grave of Juan Moreira killed by the police three days ago in the county of Lobos.  His wife is there to identify the body.  She does and someone yells:  "Long live Moreira, God damn it!"  A fight breaks out between the police (known as  the Provincial Guard) and the gauchos. 

Flashback.  The Deputy Mayor asks Moreira:  "What do you want with Sardetti?"  He adds that he has received a lot of complaints about him claiming cancelled debts.  Moreira explains that the gringo did not want to pay out of his pocket so Moreira made a loan to Sardetti for groceries for his store.  A man is sent to get Sardetti that he might comment on the case.  Later the Deputy Mayor confronts Moreira with a receipt from Sardetti and signed by him (Moreira).  But Moreira can't write.  He gets angry and says:  "I haven't been paid."    For this Moreira is beaten about the head and then his feet are placed in stocks and his hands are chained to the wall over his head. 

After Moreira has been free for awhile he returns to see Sardetti.  He cuts the grocer's throat.  Moreira then travels by horse to an isolated house of a friend.  There he sees his wife Vicenta and their young child.  He says he will go stay with the Indians for awhile.  He says good-bye to his family. 

He settles in with the Indians, but he says:  "I've never seen so much poverty."  He is revolted by the scenes and returns home "to fight for what is his".   At the isolated house he asks his friend where is Vicenta and their child.  They are visiting friends is the answer.  He travels to see his wife and son. 

Moreira goes to a bar.  Someone says:  "Long live Juan Córdoba, the macho!"  Then someone toasts to the nationalist party and for Dr.MaraZón, a synonym of justice.  Moreira does not toast to the good doctor and the toaster comes over to him to find out why.  The fellow doesn't get out of his light fast enough so Moreira kills him with a large knife. 

Outside he talks with Julian Andrade (a man he just met in the bar) and asks him:  "Andrade, who was he?"  The answer is:  "Juan Córdoba, a Mitre tough guy."  Moreira starts traveling.  An old woman talks about Moreira hiding in the Pampas.  When a Provincial Guard tries to question Moreira, he kills the policeman.  Moreira runs into another policeman and kills him too.  And then still another officer goes down.  Julian Andrada shows up in front of Moreira.  Andrada wants to join in with Moreira because:  "My deeds will go down with yours." 

Moreira goes to see the Deputy Mayor and kills him with a knife.  He then starts for the North, "the north of the persecuted."  Moreira, Andrada and a friend of Madrada's known as Segundo Irazábal head out.  While traveling, Moreira says to the others:  "I wasn't born to live!  I was born to survive!" 

Moreira connects his name with those of the politicians Leguizamón, Dr Acosta and Alsina.  They are at a rally with games, tight-rope walker, horses races and many other diversions.  Moreira is given a fancy knife from Dr. Alsina.  Moreira tells his two buddies (serving as body guards) to watch out for the Córdoba men.  Would-be assassins shoot causing chaos at the event.  Moreira and his two sidekicks kill two of the assassins, but one of them gets away.  One of the assassins' shots killed the poor tight-rope walker. 

Riquelme who works for Dr. Acosta tells Moreira that the doctor wants him to do something for him.  He will tell him what it is the next morning.  Moreira spends time in a bar with a barmaid named Laura.  When Riquelme does talk to Moreira he tells him that he will have to give up certain scruples.  He gives him the job of killing the opposition politician Dr. MaraZón.  The three men set out to do the job, but Andrada has second thoughts.  He tells Moreira:  "I won't kill for no reason. . . . I don't kill upon request."  He leaves the trio.

At the home of Dr. MaraZón, a guard shoots at Moreira, wounding him badly in the neck.  Irazábal, in turn, kills the guard.  The doctor comes out to see what is going on.  He says to Moreira:  "Well?"  Moreira says he won't kill upon request and leaves. 

Later Irazábal asks:  "What's to become of us?  The elections are only a month away."  The trio is back together with Moreira stretched out on a bed recovering from his wound.  He has a nightmare of Death coming to get him, but that he takes his child instead.  And Moreira's child does die.  He goes to the wake, but Irazábal warns him that there are too many cops around for him to go in.  Later Moreira writes Dr. MaraZón apologizing and saying that he is only a gaucho in disgrace.  And even later Moreira gives a toast:  "For Argentina, vive Mitre and the Nationalist Party!"

Moreira gets a meeting with Dr. MaraZón and they come to some agreement.  For switching political sides, Moreira is criticized.  A singer in a bar sings about Moreira being a chamelon.  Moreira takes exception to the song and orders the singer to "get out".  An assassin for the other side is stalking Moreira.  The assassin is so confident that he challenges Moreira to a knife fight.  The wrong thing to do!  Moreira kills the man.  He then shouts to the crowd:  "Who's next?"

Moreira tells Andrada that the politician Mitre is leading an uprising in the capital.  As soon as he heard of Avellaneda's triumph, he soured.  Then he suggests that they go to the bar La Estrella. 

The Provincial Guard arrives to question Dr. MaraZón.  Captain Eulogio Varela and some other men speak with the doctor.  The doctor asks about a document the men have:  "What is this?"  It's an interdiction; interdicting the county.  The men tell the doctor that Mitre has been defeated and put in jail.  Then they ask the doctor to turn Moreira in.  He is a killer who headed your committee, they say.  But the doctor reminds them that Moreira had also been a part of the committee for the other side.  Irazábal arrives at the doctor's house and is immediately grabbed by the policemen.  The captain interrogates Irazábal with no success.  Another man, who knows Irazábal, takes over from the captain.  He tells the captive that it is hopeless for Moreira.  They have 50 policemen around the house, 50 more in the town and 40 plain clothes policemen in the town of Lobos.  And no one will know about their conversation.  Irazábal seems to soften his resistance. 

The police surround La Estrella.  Moreira is with Laura in one of the rooms and Andrada is with another woman in another room.  The police rush Andrada's room and bash him several times with a rifle butt.  They then turn their attention to Moreira.  They shout:  "Juan Moreira, turn yourself in! . . . This is the Buenos Aires Police."  Moreira shouts back that he is letting the woman out of the room and they hold their fire while he allows her to go.  Moreira shoots at the police and they fire back.  His face becomes bloody near his left eye.  The police star breaking the door in.  Moreira makes a charge to push and kill his way through the police.  Using a pistol and a knife in a very small hall he shoots or knifes a number of men.  He is able to force his way out.  He tries to climb over a wall, but suddenly is bayoneted in the back.  He responds by shooting the policeman, who drops to the ground.  Moreira drops to the ground also, but is able to get up again.  But then he is killed by shots from other policemen. 


This is a pretty good movie.  I wish the film had made it more clear that virtually all the gauchos were victims of injustice from the oligarchy in Buenos Aires, instead of dealing primarily with only Moreira's problems.  He became a popular hero precisely because he represented the disgust of the guachos with how badly they were being treated.  Also the film made him seem very cold-blooded, killing some men when the justification was arguable.  And you need some knowledge of Argentine history and geography to really appreciate the film.  Actor Rodolfo Bebán was good in the role of Juan Moreira. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


1825  --  Great Britain recognizes Argentine independence from Spain.

1829-1852  --  reign of the federalist dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas in the Buenos Aires province.  He had a paramilitary force of his own, known as La Mazorca ("the Corncob").

1832  --  Confederación Argentina founded and became the main name used for the young country.

1853  --  a constitution promulgated for Argentina.  The constitution used the Confederación Argentina denomination for the name of the country.

Bartolomé Mitre was a leader of the revolt of Buenos Aires against Justo José de Urquiza's federal system.  He would be appointed to important posts in the provincial government after Buenos Aires left the Confederation.

1859  --  in the civil war of this year Mitre was defeated by Urquiza.  Buenos Aires reentered the Argentine Confederation.

by 1859  --  the unity of Argentina largely secured.

1860  --  President Santiago Derqui decreed the official name of the country to be República Argentina.

1862  --  the National Assembly selects the liberal politician Bartolomé Mitre as president.

1864-1870  --  the bloodies war in the history of South America, the War of the Triple Alliance (a.k.a., the Paraguayan War), was fought between Paraguay and the allied countries of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. 

1866  --  Unitarian politician Adolfo Alsina is elected governor of the Buenos Aires Province.

1868  --  Mitre succeeded by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento

Juan Moreira lived during a time when the Buenos Aires oligarchy was eliminating the native peoples and driving off the gauchos (Argentine cowboys) from the Pampas (the vast grassy plains of northern Argentina).  The oligarchy wanted to "civilize" the Pampas. 

????  --  Juan Moreira is born in the administrative area of La Matanza, Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

Juan Manuel de Rosas gives a letter to Juan's father to deliver to a "Mazorca" official.  The official reads the letter and immediately carries out the order.  He has a firing squad execute the deliverer of the message: Juan's father.

Moreira is a rural worker.  This is not an easy life for the gauchos of Argentina are subject to extremely unfair treatment by the wealthy.   Moreira's treatment at the hands of the wealthy and his revolt against this treatment made him a popular hero in Argentina.  And his life helped create the myth of the gaucho as rebel hero.

He saves enough money to buy a ranch and some cattle.

Moreira plays the guitar.  Vicenta, the daughter of a local gentlemen, falls in love with him.  Moreira and Vicenta marry, with her father's consent.

The first 30 years of Moreira's life were fairly normal.  He was not a violent man.  But his marriage changed this.  The Deputy Mayor of the area, known as Don Francisco, is also in love with Vicenta.   Don Franciso seeks vengeance by fining Moreira any chance he could get (even if he had to make up charges).

Don Francisco charges Moreira 500 pesos because he had his wedding celebration without proper authorization.

Moreira lent Mr. Sardetti, a grocery-store owner, 10,000 pesos to buy merchandise. Sardetti was not paying back the loan to Moreira, so he finally went to Don Francisco for justice.  Sardetti denied the story and so Don Francisco threw Moreira into jail for 48 hours.  The charge was that Moreira committed a form of attempted robbery.

Moreira becomes so angry that he has a knife duel with Sardetti and kills him. 

Don Francisco and four soldiers try to arrest Moreira.  Moreira kills Don Francisco and two of the soldiers.

Moreira becomes famous/infamous for his winning knife fights.  Then men seek him out to defeat him in a knife fight.  Moreira only fights given extreme provocation and/or in self-defense.

Moreira uses his fame to be employed as a bodyguard for powerful politicians.  Politicians would promise to wipe the slate clean for Moreira reputation, but this just proves to be all talk and no action. 

1870s  --  General Julio Argentilno Roca establishes Buenos Aires's dominance over the pampas.  He also established the unitarios victory over the federalists. 

He wanders through Navarro, Las Heras, Lobos, Veinticino de Mayo and the lands of the Indian Cacique Coliqueo.

1874 (April)  --  Governor Mariano Acosta of the Province of Buenos Aires orders Casimiro Villamayor, the justice of the peace in Lobos, to arrest Moreira.  Moreira is in hiding in La Estrella, a grocery and saloon (pulpería).  The police surround the building.  Moreira fights the police in order to escape and tries to jump over a wall to get to his horse.  Sergeant Chirino stabs Moreira with a bayonet.  The bayonet perforates Moreira's left lung. Moreira shoots the sergeant (who loses one of his eyes) and injures another policeman. 

1874  --  the presidency of Sarmiento ends and Adolfo Alsina joins Nicolás Avellaneda to create the Partido Autonomista Nacional.  Later Avellaneda becomes the president and names Alsina Minister of War and Navy.

Moreira leaves behind his wife and a child, named Juan. He is buried in  the Lobos cemetery.

1880  --  General Roca becomes president.


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