La soldadera (1966)
Director: José BolaZos.
Cast: Silvia Pinal (Lázara), Jaime Fernández (Juan), Narciso Busquets (Nicolás), Sonia Infante (Micaela), Pedro Armendáriz Jr. (Isidro), Víctor Manuel Mendoza (Major Castro Virgen), Chavela Vargas (Ángela), Mario García González (Sabás), Aurora Clavel (Victoria), Arturo Castro 'Bigotón' (Primitivo), Judith Dupeyrón (NiZa), Enrique Tello, Alicia del Lago (Soldadera), Jorge Barragá, Jorge Landa, Rodolfo Villalba, Hortensia SantoveZa (Madre de Lázara).
(no English subtitles)
a wife becomes a soldier's woman when her husband is conscripted into the Mexican Revolution
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
A train filled with federal soldiers comes into the small station stop of Bernal. The station manager asks the officer in charge how can he serve them and he tells the station manager to put all the young men at the station onto the train. Juan and his new bride Lázara were just about to go on their honeymoon. Their relatives had come to see them leave on the train. The station master protests but two soldiers just force him backwards. Lázara decides to accompany her husband as he is forced into the military.
The soldiers line up for formation outside another railway station. There are many women (sometimes with children) with the soldiers. Juan is one of six men who ride out to an outpost to relieve the men on duty there. Juan talks to a veteran soldier. He has a lot to find out about. He asks questions such as "What are we doing in this place?" We are watching the Pasa de la Mula. On the other side of the pass the revolutionaries are waiting to kill us. "Who are these revolutionaries?" They are villistas (followers of Pancho Villa) and they kill everybody in order to avenge the death of President Madero. The veteran asks: "Are you afraid?" Juan nods his head and asks: "And you?" The answer is yes, very afraid. At night Lázara prepares the food for her husband. They have a very simple make-shift structure to provide them some protection from the son.
A soldier comes riding in with his face and front covered with dirt and blood. Juan has to saddle up with the rest of the men to go into battle. Lázara tries to stop him from going. She chases after him. Juan tells her to go back. It is hard to see him in the huge dust clouds sent up by all the horses and men. She goes back for a little while then chases after her husband again. Some women are running back from the battle as she runs to it. She turns over the body of a fallen soldier and half his face appears to be totally damaged. It's not her husband. She looks at some other bodies. A little while later she spots her lifeless husband laying face down on the ground. The horses whirl around her, but she is in a daze. Someone slaps a rifle into her hand and now she carries the rifle. She walks astride the man who gave her the rifle who is riding on a horse. They return to a small house where everyone seems to be congregating. The man is named Nicolás. He tells her to find some food for him. One of the men talking with Nicolás says he has fought in fourteen battles and is ready to fight in another. (Regardless if it's for Villa, Carranza or Zapata.)
A woman takes care of her two young boys who are now soldiers. The women spread out over the ground and start preparing the meals. There are a lot of tortillas being made. A young girl feels sorry for the dazed Lázara and helps her adjust. Nicolás opens Lázara's blouse a little ways to reveal a tattoo of a heart with the words "Juan and Lázara".
An older woman also helps Lázara. She shows her how to carry the ammunition belts. The belts are placed over the head and cris-cross across the front of the chest. The woman then shows her how to fire her rifle.
The women swarm through a village, taking up an entire street and picking up any food they can lay their hands on. They are like a bunch of locusts leaving devastation in their wake. Lázara joins in on the action. They break into places, grab pigs off the street and grab, grab, grab. Lázara actually briefly fights with a man who tries to interfere with what she is doing. The women break down doors with the butts of their rifles. They swarm into a mansion. Most of them are astonished to see the lavishness of the place. Expressing their resentment of the wealthy, they start smashing the mirrors and breaking everything in sight. One woman shoots a marble statue. Others destroy the paintings hanging on the walls. Lázara grabs a few things she thinks she will put in her parent's house in Bernal. Some of the women fight with each other. Some put on so much powder and rouge on their faces that they look like clowns. Others wear fancy hats they found in the mansion.
Nicolás laughs when he sees Lázara. She is wearing a fancy ball gown, a swell bonnet and a painted face. He makes her wash the make-up off her face. A moving picture is shown to some of the soldiers and their wives. Lázara is captivated by what she sees, whereas the men are not so impressed. Nicolás quickly tires of it and starts shooting the screen with his pistol. He then tears the sheet screen down. Lázara runs to and picks up the sheet, all the while looking to see the images on the sheet she saw earlier.
Lázara remembers some good times with her husband and her family. She walks down the street like someone in a dream. That is until she hears shots fired from inside the cantina. She stays outside but looks under the swinging doors and into the room. A drunken Nicolás on his horse emerges from the bar. Lázara walks beside the horse back to the camp area.
The soldiers are on the move and that means a lot of walking for the women. Lázara is laden down with the goodies she gathered from the village. It is very hot and it looks like she's physically miserable. They reach a train with a number of boxcars. The women climb atop the box cars. Lázara occupies one of the box cars. She places a lot of her collected goodies in it.
One morning she goes for a walk alongside the train. She finds some food someone dropped and hurriedly eats it. She dreams of owning her own house. Another days it starts to rain. This gets her into a little fracas. The soldiers tell her to get on top of the box car: "Do you want to kill the horses?" They then start throwing out some of the merchandise she had collected. And what a sight it is on top of the cars. They are men manning machine guns. There are people everywhere. Some rig up a little sun protection.
The train stops at Bernal. Lázara is anxious to see her home. She is devastated, however, when she sees only the charred remains of her and her parents' home. Again she walks around as if in a daze. She starts saying "my house, my house, my house" while crying. She returns to the roof of her boxcar. Lázara gives birth to a baby while on the roof of a boxcar on a moving train. (With all her many clothes on, I couldn't even tell she was pregnant.)
They come to another place, pass by a group of hanged soldiers and sit outside a huge church. They find some food being carried by someone's donkey and there is a mad scramble for it. Another group of soldiers' women approaches them. They have a lot of food with them. The sitting women get up and start walking toward the oncoming group. The old woman of the group asks the seeming leader of the other group what they want. They wants weapons. Lázara's group wants food. The women make a dash to exchange arms for food and food for arms.
The train is going to the capital. Lázara asks Nicolás if she might be able to get a little house there. He says yes, that's what they're fighting for. The men go into battle. The women lay under the box cars on the tracks, while the battle proceeds. Lázara is very worried about what might happen during the battle. Her baby cries and cries and she tries to comfort her without much success.
The battle ends and the women come out from under the train. In a confusing mass in clouds of dust, Lázara searches for Nicolás among the returning soldiers. She finds him dead laid over the back of a horse. It seems she is back to square one. She stops and again appears sad and dejected. Then another soldier comes to her, takes the baby and walks with her to get onto the train. She stops on the back of the train to look around. She looks a little happier now.
Good movie. I found it fascinating. It is a film of something I had not seen before. The emphasis was on the women -- a great many wives and lovers of soldiers for both sides in the Mexican Revolution. It was just mesmerizing watching all these women faithfully and dutifully performing key tasks for their husbands and children with little complaint. They are put through horrendous challenges, but they persevere. They keep going and going, regardless of the heat, the battles, the deaths, the dirt, the flies, the noise and so much more. My favorite scene was one where the women descend on a small town like a swarm of locusts. They pass by the camera as if in waves of women. I lived through a lot the women's liberation movement and I wonder why no one ever mentioned this film. It is quite the celebration of women's great capacity for love, devotion, sacrifice and endurance, without any preaching. And it is quite the film and if I had a daughter I would certainly want her to see it. Silvia Pinal was great as Lázara. The war was very hard on her. She lost her honeymoon, her house and her husband, had to have a baby on top of a moving boxcar on a train, followed by the loss of a male soldier protector, all just to have to take up with a third soldier for her and her baby's welfare and protection. There is not a lot of dialogue in this film, but many times no words are necessary. The horrendous events and conditions speak for themselves. One can just sit back and stare at what seems taken from another world. It is quite wonderful.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
See Viva Villa! (1934).
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