Trópico de sangre (2010)
Director: Juan Delancer.
Starring: Michelle Rodriguez (Minerva Mirabal), Juan Fernández (Trujillo), Sergio Carlo (Manolo Tavares), Claudette Lali (Emilia), Alexander Estrella (Teniente Jimenez), Luchy Estevez (Patria Mirabal), César Évora (Antonio De La Maza), Dede Mirabal (Herself ), Sharlene Taulé (Maria Teresa Mirabal), Celines Toribio (Young Dede Mirabal).
Spanish with English subtitles
about the Mirabal sisters and their fight against dictator Trujillo (who reigned from 1930 to 1961)
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Dominican Republic. School children are on a bus going to visit the home of the famous Mirabal sisters who were murdered by the Trujillo regime. Dede Mirabal, the surviving sister, shows visitors around the Mirabal house. She sets the table with three settings for the three missing women, as her mother did for so many years following the murders. Dede remarks that she too is waiting for her sisters.
Another guide takes the students through the house. She says the last ten months of their lives were spend in this house. The sisters studied in La Venga at the Colegio Inmaculada Concepcion. The house museum has the actual living room furniture, Patria's dress, the bloody cloth used to dry the sisters' bodies after their death. among many other things. Trujillo kept the presidency for 30 years, while he got rich and had his opponents killed. Dede tells a girl who looks a little concerned that those days of extreme brutality and assassination are gone. It is now save to come visit the Mirabal home.
Flashback. 1947. Trujillo has been president for seventeen years. He is the absolute owner of the country. Almost half of the Dominican population depend on Trujillo owned factories. The dictatorship will last another fourteen years.
Workers are holding a peaceful rally for work, justice and liberty. In one of the shops Minerva Mirabal is trying on hats. She hears the chants of the workers and watches as the police confront the workers. She sees the leader of the strike knocked down. Then the police beat the protestors with their batons.
The leader of the strike is brought in for interrogation. The fellow is from Chile. The interrogator wants to know why this foreigner has come to the Dominican Republic to cause trouble? He actually goes lightly on the Chilean because he confines his severest penalty to a punch to the stomach of the Chilean. He also says that if he sees him again leading a protest, he will crush him like a cockroach.
Minerva likes to paint landscapes and reading the poetry of the Uruguayan poet Juana de Ibarborou (1892-1979). Her good friend tells her to stop these hobbies and go to college. Minerva says she will go to college along with her friend.
Ciudad Trujillo (aka Santo Domingo), June 1949. Trujillo arrives with a reception waiting for him. He sees the daughter of a friend and starts flirting with the pretty, young woman. As he goes inside the building, the people shout: "Long live the chief!" The chief sits down with his civil officers and asks what each one has done for him recently. His military man tells the group that the rebel expedition which landed at Luperon Bay has just been wiped out. Trujillo says they will celebrate this recent accomplishment.
Ojo de Agua, Salcedo. Minerva returns to her home from the capital Santo Domingo. They are opening a university there and there she would like to go to school. She says she wants to become a lawyer. This worries her mother because, she says, Don Ramon's daughter went to Santo Domingo and got into politics and now she is under house arrest there. Dad tells Minerva that her sister Patria is already married with a family and Dede is getting married in a few months. He needs someone to help him with his shop. Besides, Minerva has enough education. This angers Minerva.
Mother tells her daughter that all those books she reads have made her crazy and, she bets, none of them told her that ". . .in this country Trujillo is the law, the stick and the constitution."
So Minerva works in the shop. One day her father completely surprises her. He presents her with a new car. Minerva is thrilled. With her father and two other sisters in the car with her, she goes for a drive.
Trujillo is talking to one of his chiefs about Minerva Mirabal. The underling says in the whole region, people talk constantly about her and her sisters. To meet them, they will have a party in the province. The aide will make the arrangements with Governor Antonio de la Maza.
Mother talks with her husband. They have received an invitation for their entire family to go to the provincial ball in honor of the president. (The governor of the province asked Mr. Marabal personally to come.) But mom is worried that Trujillo might make a move on Minerva.
The entire family comes to the ball. Trujillo arrives and is announced to the crowd. He meets a few of the officials and then is taken over to meet the Mirabal family. He kisses the hand of Minerva. Trujillo picks another young lady to dance with while his aide picks Minerva. Then after a little while the men shift partners and Trujillo is now dancing with Minerva. Trujillo says she is the most beautiful woman in the world and she tells him not to exaggerate. So Trujillo says she could work in his government. She says she has no desire to work in government since she saw the police beat up her good friend Pericles Franco (founder of the anti-Trujillo Popular Socialist Party). At that Trujillo signals for the music to stop. He thanks Minerva for the dance and Minerva goes straight to her table. She says she wants to leave, but her family reminds her that no one can leave before Trujillo leaves. Minerva, however, leaves anyway. Her sisters and father follow her.
The aide has to tells Trujillo that the Mirabal family has left. The dictator becomes angry, saying that his men are incompetents, because they brought a communist family to a ball in his honor. He now leaves the party. But he still wants a woman, so he tells his aide to get him that tall mulatto girl they saw earlier in the day.
Minerva gets balled out by her father at the shop. He says she should should write a letter of apology to the chief, but Minerva just keeps saying she did nothing wrong. Dad is fearful that Minerva is going to destroy the family through her irresponsible actions toward Trujillo. Trujillo is with the mulatto woman. His aide is informed that Minerva did not want to come, so the aide orders the Colonel to be brought to him. Colonel Tomas Ovando has Minerva arrested. Her sisters and her father are also in jail. Minerva will not cooperate with the Colonel in any way and asks permission to leave. He grants the permission and she leaves.
The aide comes in after Minerva leaves. The Colonel tells him: "This woman is a man."
The four sisters are together, but their father is still in jail. But one night dad comes walking into the house. Minerva asks her father to forgive her. He does.
Dad talks to his brother Fello about having to shut down the shop. And he tells Minerva that she can study to be a lawyer. Minerva is ecstatic.
Everybody waves goodbye to Minerva as she goes to the University of Santo Domingo, 1952. There she sees her old girlfriend who is delighted that Minerva has been allowed to study to be a lawyer.
Trujillo hears good things about Minerva at school. She is very intelligent and she is also very popular.
Minerva discovers that she will not be allowed to register for the next semester. The registrar tells her that these are orders from the top. So, she seeks out someone who can give her advice on what she has to do to get back into the university. She will have to write a speech praising Trujillo.
Maria Teresa Mirabal waits outside the library for her boyfriend. He is thrilled to see her, but has to tell her that they were denied the scholarship: "The intelligence service says we don't qualify." And now the couple doesn't know what they are going to do.
A taxi cab driver is beaten by Trujillo's thugs for having the audacity to write on his back windows the words: "The spirit of the chief." They make him erase the words off the windows.
Minerva comes home to find that her father has already died. She attends the burial. Uncle tells her she should live with his family in Jarabacoa until things cool down.
Jarabacoa, La Vega Province,1954. Minerva works in a drug store. A young man comes into the pharmacy and is blown away by Minerva's rare beauty. Minerva smiles. He indicates that he will see her again. And he makes sure he sees her again, but she tells him that she has to go back to Salcedo tomorrow. The young man tells her that her Uncle told him that she is studying to be a lawyer and that, he too is a student of the law. His name is Manolo Tavares.
Trujillo's aide comes in to see his brother the general at a prison. They hug. He says that the garrison from the capital will join them in a coup d'etat. The aide almost whines that his brother promised him that he would become the new president. His brother just says he will just have to be patient.
Trujillo finds out that the general is conspiring because he wants to become president. The brother of the general is the one who ratted the general out. He gets well paid for this information. But the rat is forced to watch as they torture his brother the general by pulling his fingernails off his digits.
At home Dede teases Minerva about her new found love. Minerva says the fellow is just a friend of hers, but Dede knows it is much deeper than that. At night Manolo and Minerva attend a stick party (fiesta de palo). They join in on the dancing.
Minerva wakes up from her sleep. Outside Manolo serenades her.
Manolo and Minerva marry.
Brothers Antonio and Ocatvio (aka Tavito) have to part company as Tavito is going on a top secret military mission, about which he cannot say anything. The brothers hug and say goodbye.
New York City, 1956. Trujillo is blamed for the kidnapping of Jesus de Galindez, a Basque writer, who taught at Columbia University. Galindez made some very serious accusations against Trujillo in a thesis of the president's prolonged regime. The kidnapping shocks the American public. American government behind the scenes tells Antonio to tell Trujillo to make his story more believable. Pimpo tells Trujillo that Washington doesn't believe his story.
At military intelligence a hit man tells Torres that Tavito has nothing to do with this, except that he is the brother of Antonio de la Maza. All he did was bring the kidnapped Galindez to Santo Domingo by plane. Torres says that when the Gods (in this case the Americans) want to be appeased, someone has to be sacrificed and served up to them. The two hit men drop the dead body of Tavito at the front door of Antonio de la Maza's home. Antonio is very bitter about this and is now looking for revenge. Trujillo sends a flower arrangement in honor of the death of Tavito. Antonio grabs it and throws it out onto the front lawn.
Minerva now has two children by Manolo. Her husband says they are ready to begin their lawyering business. Minerva is upset because she is so busy with child care and cooking that she has little time actually to practice law. And there's worse. She cries and says: "They've denied my license to practice as a lawyer." She gets so mad that she destroys by fire her graduation diploma.
Trujillo comes to see Antonio de la Maza. Antonio has to hide his shotgun that he was cleaning. The jefe (chief) goes up to Antonio and gives him a hug. He gives a check to Antonio for the work to be done on the roads at the border with Haiti. When Trujillo leaves, Antonio crumbles up the envelope with the check in it.
Minerva and Dede run into Antonio and they tell him they are sorry about what happened to his brother. Minerva advises him to resign himself to what happened, but Antonio says he cannot do that.
Manolo tells Minerva that the expedition has arrived. There has been fighting already. Colonel Ovando is torturing captives. He knows that Betancourt and Fidel Castro helped the guerillas.
Dede comes down to the local headquarters of the radicals where Minerva is hard at work. She tells her sister that she wants to work alongside her against the government. Minerva takes her in.
A young officer comes in to thank Colonel Ovasndo for his recent promotion. The Colonel says let's just hope that the secret of Johnny Abbes and the "40" does not destroy the young officer's career. The officer doesn't know what the Colonel is referring to, so the Colonel tells him that this deals with the torture center designed by Col. Abbes. Those who go through there leave dead of crazy. He says the torture center will be the undoing of the chief.
Johnny Abbes, Chief of Military Intelligence Service. He looks at his next torture victim, smiles a big grin and then laughs.
Father Luis Pena Gonzalez come to get Manolo who is mimeographing off a political cartoon of Trujillo. He tells Manolo that there is a rebel wishing to speak to him. The rebel says he has 20 members in his group, but Manolo tells him he needs 100 or more men. They have to be ready for the demonstration.
Dr. Manuel Tejada. At a meeting of the radicals Minerva gives out assignments to various members of the group. The following day the group carry out a political demonstration. Someone plants a small bomb in a garbage can on the sidewalk near an out-door restaurant. Minerva sneaks into a car with a loudspeaker on it and puts in an anti-Trujillo tape and starts broadcasting it. The small bomb in the garbage can goes off. Men on the roof let unroll a "Down with Trujillo" sign on a huge sheet and throw a lot of anti-Trujillo leaflets into the air. Then a bomb explodes in the car with the loud-speaker. All the radicals get away.
Military Intelligence figures it's a group of the children of the upper class that have committed this latest bombing and demonstration. They start eliminating radicals by murdering them.
They come to Minerva's place and take her husband away to talk to the commandant at the fortress. Other thugs break up a meeting and arrest all the participants. They grab a lot of other men. They take them all to the "40" Prison. There the men are stripped naked and beaten. Torres nearly kills the man he is torturing by sending a lot of electricity running through his body.
Trujillo tells the author of the report on the arrest of the rebels that he has been fooled. It is Minerva Mirabal who is the ring leader of this group.
In the "40" Prison Abbe tortures Minerva's good friend with a cattle prod. (some partial nudity) The thugs bring in Minerva and Dede to the "40" Prison. They are thrown in with Minerva's friend. A headline in the paper says that Dr. Joaquin Balaguer assumes the presidency.
Antonio meets with his associates, including Luis Arniama, Antonio Imbert and Gen. Juan Tomas Diaz. The Americans are sending a weapons shipment to them. Antonio is furious over the constant waiting for the never arriving weapons shipment.
At the Mirabel home, mother listens and cries as a letter from one of her daughters at the "40" Prisonl is read to her. The sisters in prison receive a care package from home.
In church Colonel Ovando is embarrassed a bit when the priest asks the parishioners to pray for those people in Trujillo's jails and for their families.
The sisters are freed and mother and the other two sisters are very happy to see them back.
Minerva goes in to see Trujillo. She begs him to free her husband and her brothers-in-law. He tells her: "I am not going to let a small group of traitors and ingrates to destroy everything I have done for you all, damn it!"
At home Minerva's friend tells her that nine women, including her, are going to the Argentinean embassy to ask for asylum and she wants Minerva to come along. She adds that Trujillo won't rest until Minerva is dead. Minerva won't go.
Minerva retrieves a pistol from its hiding place. A fellow radical comes to the home and Minerva gives him a message that must get to Alfonso Canto in his Manhattan office. She is hoping that the dictatorship will end before Christmas.
Maria Teresa tells Minerva that the authorities have transferred Manolo and Leandro to another jail in Puerto Plata in the province of Puerto Plata that borders the Caribbean Sea on the nation's northwestern side. .
Patria Mirabal visits her husband in the local prison. She asks his permission to go with her sisters Minerva and Maria Teresa to Puerto Plata to see their husbands. Her husband says: "No problem."
At home Maria Teresa says the Bournigals will lend them their jeep, so now all they need is a driver. Meanwhile, Trujillo he angered by the latest underground cartoon drawing of him.
November 25, 1960. The driver Rufino shows up to take the three sisters to Puerto Plata. (Dede will stay behind.) Minerva tells the driver that he is taking a risk by driving them, but that does not deter the driver.
Puerto Plata. Prison of the Fortress. The women go in and they are able to see the husbands of Minerva and Maria Teresa. One of the thugs takes down the license plate number of the jeep. The jeep starts its return trip home. They are stopped by a group of thugs who take the women and Rufino out of the jeep. They are taken out into a wooded area where the three sisters and Rufino are pistol whipped. (Pretty violent scenes.) One of the sisters is thrown in the back of the thug's car, but she is still alive. So the the thug on the passenger side front gets out and smashes her with his pistol several times, splattering the window with blood.
The three sisters are buried together.
Back to the present. The students are leaving after visiting the Mirabal museum. Dede waves goodbye to them as their bus starts to leave.
May 30, 1961. "Trujillo was killed by the group led by Antonio de la Maza. The material authors and one of the masterminds of the Mirabal sisters and Rufino de la Cruz murders never served the sentences to which they were condemned. Five years later, they were able to flee abroad with the help of the military. Thos responsible for the execution of more than 100 prisoners at the "40" prison did not even go to trial after Trujillo's death in 1961. Dede Mirabal took in the six children of her murdered sisters. Minou, Minerva's daughter, is a legislator. Jaime David, Dede's son, became the vice president of the country. By unanimous vote in 1999, the United Nations declared November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in honor of the Dominican heroines. Dede Mirabal founded a museum to perpetuate the memory of her sisters. The facility occupies the house where the heroines lived until their assassination in 1960. This film is dedicated to Dona Dede Mirabal."
Spoiler Warning. Good film. This new version of the Mirabel sisters of the Dominican Republic is more brutal than the previous film, In the Time of the Butterflies (2001). Brutal torture is shown, for instance, and plays an important part in the film. The brutal and bloody deaths of the three sisters along with their driver is also shown. I enjoyed the other film too, but maybe it is better to show exactly what Mr. Trujillo was up to in the Dominican Republic. Michelle Rodriguez is a good and attractive actress and I like her mean look, but at times the face seemed too mean. How can she be seen as so beautiful with that scowling face. (I realize that there wasn't much for her to smile at, but it did bug me a bit.) The four sisters were definitely pretty, which fits with the story line. It's an important story and I'm glad it has been told and retold.
And, of course, the USA preferred stability to justice and equality and supported Trujillo (seeing him as a bulwark against Castro in Cuba). It was not until late in the game that the USA supplied the weapons that helped make possible the assassination of Trujillo. Seeing no other option, she writes the speech. She gets back into the university.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
See In the Time of the Butterflies (2001).
Salcedo is the capital city of today’s Hermanas Mirabal Province (which used to be called Salcedo) in the Dominican Republic. The province is in north central Dominican Republic.
Ojo de Agua is the name of the town where the Mirabal sisters museum is located.
Luperon Bay is located in Puerto Plata Province.
Santeria is a religion that originated in Cuba and Brazil that combines the traditional Yoruba faith of West African and the worship of Catholic saints. One of their types of parties is the fiesta de palos full of color and flowers. In the sticks party a spirit enters the spirit of a wild dancer that has gone into some form of trance while dancing to the beating of the drums.
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