Rojo Amanecer (1989) 




Director:  Jorge Fons.

Starring:  Hctor Bonilla (Humberto, father), Mara Rojo (Alicia), Jorge Fegn (Don Roque), Ademar Arau (Carlos), Demin Bichir (Jorge), Bruno Bichir (Sergio), Marta Aura (Neighbor woman), Eduardo Palomo (Injured Boy), Carlos Cardn (Second lieutenant), Leonor Bonilla (Girl), Paloma Robles (Graciela), Simn Guevara (Boy 1), Sergio Snchez (Boy 2), Roberto Sosa (Soldier), Santiago Allende (Student 1).

In Spanish.  No subtitles.

family's physical security threatened by their sons' commitment to the student revolt



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

Translation Warning:  there were no subtitles and I am still learning Spanish so I can't assure you that everything below is exactly correct, but certainly the main thrust of the movie can easily be understood. 

October 2, 1968, time of the Olympic Games, Mexico City.  Tlatelolco (the largest housing complex in the city) overlooking the Plaza de las Tres Culturas where a student protest is taking place.  A middle-class Mexican family consisting of the father Humberto (who works for the government), mother Alicia, maternal grandfather, two older boys Jorge and Sergio, a young daughter Graciela and an even younger son Carlos.  The family rises as they usually do on a week day.  Grandfather turns on the television and hears the news of four terrorists who have been arrested. 

This is the day of the big student protest.  Father is very worried about his two sons who will be participating in the protest.  He tries to tell his son that the government is going to respond in a tough manner and the boys should stay away from the demonstration.  The boys start arguing with their father which upsets him, mother and grandfather.  Grandfather was once a captain in the army and really does not approve of his older grandsons' political interests.  After the father leaves, mother asks her radical sons how many dead, disappeared and jailed students will it take for the boys to realize that what they are doing is dangerous and fruitless.  The young men, however, say that it is very important to them to participate in the student movement to bring about change.  They will not be deterred.  Mom is extremely worried about her two older sons. 

Mother starts preparing a meal, but can't use her blender because the electricity is out.  She tells grandfather to head upstairs to see what is the problem.  Grandfather realizes that the problem is that someone has deliberately cut the lines.  He restores the electricity. 

Mom finds radical political literature in Jorge's bed and there is a picture of Che Guevara on the bedroom wall.  Graciela and Carlos return from school.  Grandpa and Carlos play a game of toy soldiers in the large area by the elevator.  Graciela tells her mother that there are a lot of police and soldiers around the area. When mom starts to fret, he tells her not to worry.  While Carlos and Grandpa are playing they see three armed men go over to the window that overlooks the Plaza de las Tres Culturas and look intently over the square and its surroundings.  They soon leave to check other levels of the building. 

Mom gets a call from dad, but the line starts to fade and then completely goes out of service.  Graciela checks with various neighbors and find that all the telephones are down.  Carlos and Grandpa come back into the apartment.  Attracted by the noise outside, Carlos goes over to the window and looks at all the protestors below.  Graciela joins him and he tells her that there are around a thousand people, but Graciela says his estimations are way off.  Grandpa tells mom about the three armed men in the building.  When she starts to become very anxious, Grandpa tries to tell her that the response to the protest from the authorities will be mild. 

Graciela wants to leave the apartment but her mother tells her she should stay home.  Her daughter, however, will not take staying home as an answer and mom lets her go. 

It is almost 6 p.m.  A voice over a loud speaker says that everyone should go back to their homes.  Carlos scans the sky looking at the helicopters.  A lot of shots are heard.  Grandpa tells everyone to get away from the window.  A bullet pierces through the window and hits the portrait of Jesus on the opposite wall.  Everyone goes into a bedroom and grandfather has them all sit on the floor.  Later grandfather hears the sounds of tanks below. 

6:55 p.m.  The electricity having gone out again, grandfather lights a lantern.  He says that the worst is past.  He gets several candles and lights them.  It is raining hard outside.  Another burst of automatic weapons fire is heard in the streets.  A little later grandfather decides to go outside despite the protestations of his daughter.  He tells her not to worry because the authorities are looking for troublesome students not old men like him. 

The two older sons come home, accompanied by four other students, one of which, Luis, is badly wounded and covered with blood.  They put the wounded student in Jorge's bed.  Mom tries to bandage his wounds, but one of the wounds is to the gut, exposing the intestines.  One of the students burns his student I.D. card and then flushes the remnants down the toilet.  Mom empties the female student's collection can and then throws the can in the trash.  She then takes the radical literature from her and burns it.   Mom finds out that except for her two sons, none of the students know each other. 

Grandpa and Graciela come home, but accompanying them is an officer and some of his soldiers.  The officer checks their identification papers and asks if anyone else is in the house.  They, of course, say no.   The three armed men in the building are arresting and beating young men bloody.  The wounded student in the family apartment cries out in pain, which gives everyone a bit of a scare.  Grandpa takes a look at the wounded student and sees that his wounds have still not stopped bleeding.   He says that the young man has to get professional help, but Jorge makes it clear that this would endanger everyone.  Grandpa and Jorge start shouting at each other and mom has to intervene to quiet the situation.

Mom checks on Graciela who tells her how so many students tried to get into the surrounding buildings and away from the authorities, but that no one would open their doors to them.  Father calls to check on everyone and hears that everyone is all right so far.  There are some big explosions, followed by automatic weapons fire.  The clock is ticking away going from 10:15 p.m. to 10:25 to 10:50 p.m. at which time things get a bit quiet.  Father comes home. 

The next morning, a woman in the building goes door to door crying for her son.  The three armed men appear in the building.  They forcefully knock on our family's apartment door and demand that the door be opened.  The four students, including the wounded man, go hide in the bathroom.  Grandfather tells Carlos to hide under his bed which he does.  The two older sons get in their own beds and Graciela stays in hers.  Mom and dad let the armed men into the apartment.  They immediately are very aggressive and the lead man holds a gun to dad's head.  Grandpa comes out.  The men ask about the empty bed of Carlos and they give them an excuse that they actually buy. 

Things are going pretty well until one of the gunmen sees the picture of Che Guevara hanging on the wall.  Now things are going to get worse.  In searching the beds one of the armed men discovers some blood on the bedspread.  Now they know there are others in the house.  They bust into the bathroom and find the students hiding in the tub area. 

Everyone (except Carlos) is now gathered into the hall.  While harassing the family, one of the male students makes a run for the door and is shot in the back by the lead gunman.  Another male student bolts at one of the other armed men and gets shot for his troubles.  The female student tries to escape and is shot.  And now the bloodbath is really on as the rest of the detainees are shot one after the other.  Dad is shot in the forehead.  The gunmen then run out of the apartment.  Two shots are heard outside. 

Carlos comes out and sees all the dead bodies.  He cries for mother but realizes that no one is getting up to come to his rescue.  He gingerly steps between the bodies and heads down the stairwell.  His finds a neighbor woman dead at the bottom of one of the flights of stairs.  He sees another body lying on its back with the head heading down the stairs.  Carlos reaches the bottom of the stairs where the janitor is sweeping up a lot of debris.

Hundreds of people were killed in the government crackdown of the student protest. 


Good movie.  Shocking ending.  One thing I did not understand is why they did not remove the Che Guevara picture and the radical literature from the older sons' bedroom when they were burning a student I.D. card and some literature that was passed out at the protest.  You can't pass yourself off to very angry police and soldiers as a normal Mexican middle-class family when you have Che Guevara on the wall and the Communist Manifesto in the older sons' room.  Dad and grandfather thought the response was going to be tough on the students, but never realized it would go as far as it did.  I remember hearing about students protests in the United States in 1968 and the black power salute used by African-American track stars at the Olympics in Mexico City, but I certainly don't remember anything about Mexican student protests and the killing of hundreds of students and others in Mexico City.  It's good to see this movie. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

October 2, 1968. The Tlatelolco Massacre took place in the afternoon and at night in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City, ten days before the 1968 Summer Olympics celebrations. Most sources say there were between 200 and 300 deaths.


1964-1970  --  term of Mexican President Gustavo Daz Ordaz Bolaos Cacho.

1968 a year of student demonstrations and riots world wide. In Mexico the students wanted to exploit the focus on Mexico City for the 1968 Summer Olympics.

President Gustavo Daz Ordaz was determined to stop the demonstrations.

Luis Echeverra lvarez, a future president but then Daz Ordaz's minister of the interior, later suggested in testimony that the military action was planned in advance in order to destroy the student movement.

The American Pentagon sent military radios, weapons, ammunition and riot control training material to Mexico before and during the massacre.

1968 (July-October) the CIA station in Mexico City produced almost daily reports tracking developments within the university community and the Mexican government.

1968 (September) the president ordered the army to occupy the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Student strikes last nine weeks.

1968 (September 23) students beaten and arrested indiscriminately. (To protest the actions of the government, Rector Javier Barros Sierra resigned.)

1968 (September 26) both Echeverra and head of Federal Security (DFS) Fernando Gutirrez Barrios told the CIA that very shortly the situation would be under hand.

Oct 2 (daytime) 15,000 students from various universities marched through the streets of Mexico City. They carried red carnations to protest the army's occupation of the university campus.

Oct 2 (late afternoon) 5,000 students and workers, many of them with spouses and children, congregated outside an apartment complex in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco for a peaceful rally.

Oct 2 (sunset) the massacre begins. The police and military forces on foot and in armored cars and tanks surrounded the square. They opened fire on the crowd. Both participants and non-participants at the rally and in the rally area were killed or wounded. Even children were killed. Mounds of bodies lay on the ground.

October 3 (night) the killing continued through the night. Soldiers carried out mopping-up operations house-to-house in the apartment buildings adjacent to the square.

The government, of course, claimed self-defense.

1970-1976 --   term of President Echeverra. 

1976-1982  --  term of President Jos Lpez Portillo.

1982-1988  --  terms of President Miguel de la Madrid

1988-1994  --  term of President Carlos Salinas.

1993 in remembrance of the 25th anniversary of the massacre a stele was dedicated with the names of a few of the students and others who were killed.

1994-2000  --  term of President Ernest Sedillo. 

1997 (October) the Congress of Mexico established a committee to investigate the Tlatelolco massacre.

2000-2006  -- term of President Vincente Fox.

2006 (June) an ailing, 84-year-old Echeverra was charged with genocide in connection with the massacre. He was placed under house arrest pending trial. The judge found that Echeverra could not be put on trial because the statute of limitations had expired.

2006  --  election to the presidency of Felipe Caldern.


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