El violin (The Violin) (2005)




Director:     Francisco Vargas. 

Starring:    ngel Tavira (Don Plutarco),  Gerardo Taracena (Genaro),  Dagoberto Gama (Capitn),  Mario Garibaldi (Lucio),  Fermn Martnez (Teniente),  Silverio Palacios (Comandante Cayetano),  Octavio Castro (Zacaras),  Mercedes Hernndez (Jacinta),  Gerardo Jurez (Pedro).

 grandfather tries to retrieve ammunition for the guerilla movement behind government army lines 


Spoiler Warning.

The film begins with very violent scenes of torture and rape of indigenous people, who are members of a guerilla movement against the government, in an attempt to get information out of them.  The lieutenant seems to be having a little too much fun at this torture/rape stuff.  Thank goodness those scene are short ones.  But they are long enough to make the point something very wrong is taking place among the indigenous peoples.   

Flashback.  Grandfather, son and grandson go into town.  They try to make some money by playing instruments and singing.  Grandfather Plutarco plays the violin, his son plays the guitar and the grandson collects the donations.  Plutarco has lost his right hand, so he has to tie the violin bow to the stump in order to play the music.  The son tries to buy some weapons at a tavern, but two policemen come in to investigate and the sale is spoiled.  The trio return to their town. 

But they can't go back.  They see women, children and older men walking fast to get away from the town.  The army has come in to stop the guerilla activity.  They have taken the hometown of the trio.  The son is especially worried about his wife and daughter who were in the town at the moment of the government attack.  The son goes to see what is happening in the village.  He sees that some of the young men in the town are being shot in the head by the army.  One of the army guards sees him and a group of soldiers starts chasing him.  He just does get away from them with his life. 

The trio camps out with the other refugees from town.  In the morning the son goes to speak to Commandante Cavetano.  The guerillas train their men and women and the army trains its men with similar techniques.  The son speaks with the commandante saying that they thought they had time before the army came, but the army was too fast.  And what's worse, they did not get the weapons and ammunition out from the village, which is now behind enemy lines.  The son says he will get the weapons and ammunition out. 

Plutarco and his grandson go see the patron.  He wants to borrow one of his best burros.  The patron doesn't think he can take this risk.  So Plutarco says he will buy the animal.  He will give the patron his harvest of corn.  The patron finally gives in and Plutarco gets his burro. 

Grandfather and grandson ride the burro back to the camp.  The son comes back and they trade notes.  He is very worried about getting those weapons and ammunition out of the village.  It's risky to try to retrieve the supplies, but without them they are done for.  Plutarco tells his son that all that will happen will be that he will be killed. 

Seeing the situation they are all in, grandfather decides to see if he can get past the army men and get onto his property.  He takes the burro and off he goes.  He tells the army guards at the checkpoint that he is a musician.  They take his violin case from him, look at the musical instrument in the case and tell grandpa that they are going to keep his violin.  This upsets grandfather a great deal.  Grandfather is taken down to meet the lieutenant.  The lieutenant asks him if he is deliberately looking for trouble.  No.  Grandfather explains he wants to look after his cornfield.  The lieutenant tells him to get lost and if he see grandfather again, he will kill him. 

When the lieutenants sees the violin, he takes it to his captain, who is a big music lover and likes the violin.  The captain now talks with grandfather.  Grandfather says he is only a musician.  He's not one of those the soldiers are looking for.  The captain tells him to play something.  Plutarco plays a little something and the captain tells him to keep playing.  When the captain has had enough music, Plutarco wants to take the violin home with him.  The captain insists that the violin remain with him.  Plutarco has to go back to camp without his violin.  At night the captain tries to play the violin, but makes just horrible noise. 

The son asks for 50 men and women to attack the town and get the supplies.  The two women chiefs say they can supply the forces.  A friend comes up to  tell the son that he saw grandfather go to the village.  The son goes to ask grandfather why the hell he went to the village through the army lines?  It was to get stuff out from the village.  And where did he get the burro?  Plutarco lies and says the burro wandered over to them by itself   The son doesn't really believe him, but refuses to push the matter farther. 

The next morning grandfather goes to play for the captain again.  He leaves when it's dark.

The commandante tells his men that it is time to move to Tres Cruces.  The son asks for one more day in the hopes he can gets at least some of the supplies.  A boy carrying wood for firewood comes with a message for the commandante.  It is a list of the bodies discovered that were found floating in the river.  The son looks at the list and finds the names of his wife and daughter on it.  He is devastated when he discovers the names. 

Grandfather returns to play for the captain.  This time they give him a few tacos to eat.  The captain tries to get some information from Plutarco, but he plays dumb.  Instead Plutarco asks for permission to go see his crops.  He lets Plutarco go see his land, but the violin stays with the captain. 

Plutarco pretends he is clearing weeds from the area, but he goes to a hiding place where he buried some ammunition.  He takes out just one small box of bullets.  He then recovers the stash with dirt. 

At night Plutarco's son talks to him about their failed attempt to get the weapons out from the village.  And now he is off for Tres Cruces.  Grandfather gives him a handful of bullets.  He adds that he can get his violin back from the captain any time he wants. 

Grandfather rides his mule back to play for the captain.  The captain tries to play the instrument, but does terribly once again.  Plutarco says that he can teach the captain how to play the violin and the captain is happy to hear that.  So Plutarco asks for his violin back.  The captain lets him take it, but says Plutarco must return to play music.  The lieutenant arrives and mentions that the soldiers are headed to Tres Cruces.  He looks at Plutarco to see if he is listening, but the captain just tells the lieutenant not to worry about it. 

Plutarco tries to go home to warn the guerillas, but the lieutenant asks him what about his work on the corn field?  Granddad says he forgot  and goes to his cornfield.  He has his violin with him.  This time he takes out all the ammunition and puts it in the violin case and puts the violin where the ammunition was.  Then Plutarco starts to leave.  The guards ask him why is he leaving so early?  One of the guards goes and gets what he says is some tacos for Plutarco to eat on his way home. 

Plutarco opens the bag and finds a pistol in it.  Then he goes to the camp.  He sings songs with his grandson around a camp fire.  A fellow he knows comes over to him and now, finally, Plutarco gives him the ammunition and tells him that the army is headed for Tres Cruces.  The fellow runs off with the news and the ammunition.  Grandpa just goes back to his singing. 

The messenger arrives but the guerillas are already on their way to Tres Cruces.  Grandpa goes back to see the captain, but he is not there.  He returns to his hiding place in the cornfield.  But this time, something is wrong.  His violin is missing.  On his way home, the guard gives Plutarco another pistol.  The captain in a jeep runs into Plutarco.  He tells him to get on the jeep.  He wants his music lessons.   A soldier walks the burro back to the army encampment. 

At the encampment the captain asks Plutarco to play a song.  Plutarco goes over to a table to open up his violin case.  He does it slowly.  He then closes it and checks his bag, which contain another pistol.  The captain asks what happened to the music?  But the captain is the one that has the violin.  He gives the violin to Plutarco.  Grandfather places the violin down and starts strapping the bow to his stump.  As he does so, captured guerillas are brought into camp.  Plutarco sees his son being brought down the hill and forced into a small shack.  Three women and another man are forced into the same shack. 

The captain asks him about the music.  Plutarco just looks around at the threatening soldiers.  The captain takes out his pistol and threatens Plutarco to get him to play, but Plutarco says to him:  "The music is over."

Back to the present.  Plutarco's grandson goes from village to village playing a guitar and singing revolutionary songs.  A girl about his age collects the donations.  Undoubtedly, their parents have been killed. 


Good movie.  It illustrates a serious problem in many Latino countries with the way they handle indigenous peoples.  The way the army treats the indigenous people indicates just how bad the situation is.  They lord it over the local populace and even treat some of them like their slaves.  In this movie, the old grandfather Plutarco becomes a virtual fiddle-playing slave for the captain who acts like Plutarco's master/owner.  The poor fellow has to virtually shuck-and-jive for the captain, always having to lie to him to keep himself from being hurt.  And,. like a slave, he uses the contempt and arrogance of the masters against them.  He sneaks out ammunition to the guerillas under their very noses because they can't imagine the Indians being clever enough to fool them. 

And then there is the problem of the use of torture: constantly beating a man to get him to give up information and raping women to strike fear into them so they will be so scared they will give up information.  These tactics are beneath contempt and say a lot about the society (societies) that use torture.  It's a reflection of the problems of racism even in the Latino societies.  Most Mexicans are mestizos, a mix of Indians and whites, but that doesn't mean the army mestizos have any respect for the Indians.  In the Latino countries it's a real insult to call someone an Indian. 

ngel Tavira (as Plutarco) is very good in his role as the grandfather.  Of course, his personal history is so close to his character's history.  At the time he was a man who played the violin with the bow strapped to his stump of a hand.  He was also a great teacher of music.  He even went back to school to learn how to write music so he could set down many of the local tunes.  So the role probably wasn't much of a stretch for him.  Nevertheless, he was good.  The movie is set at a very slow pace.  There are a lot of traveling scenes from one place to the other.  They were used to make various points about the great distances in the isolated mountains the people have to cover, but sometimes I fast-forwarded through these scenes. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:

Chiapas is the most impoverished state in Mexico. 

1959-1999 Samuel Ruiz Garca (born 1924), a Mexican Roman Catholic prelate served as bishop of San Cristbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. He defended indigenous populations in Mexico and Central and South America. Bishop Ruiz was greatly influenced by Liberation Theology.  He helped create the atmosphere to form pacifist groups among the indigenous people of Chiapas. Ruiz and others introduced the natives to the language of human rights. This helped the Indians denounce what many of them saw as a system of oppression.

1992 (March 7) 700 indigenous people walked from Palenque, Chiapas to Mexico City in the Xi'Nich' March for Human Rights of the Indigenous Peoples. The protestors took a stand against government corruption, political repression, and cuts in spending in rural areas affecting indigenous populations.

1992 (October 12) a second march, from various indigenous areas to San Cristobal de Las Casas had 10,000 participants concerned about indigenous rights. Protesters toppled a statue of Diego de Mazariegos, the Spanish conquistador who founded the colonial city.

1992 (December 9)  a Christian pacifist group called Las Abejas, "The Bees," forms among the Tztotzil Maya Chenalho, Chiapas, Mexico.

1992 (December 21) Las Abejas organizes a 41-kilometer march to San Cristobal de las Casas where they held a sit-in in front of San Cristobal's cathedral to protest the unjust arrests of five of their members and the use of violence.

1992 (December 24) 5,000 indigenous people march to the prison where the five Las Abejas men were being held.

1993 (January 4) an addition protest is launched with 800 indigenous people.

1993 (January 7) the state's attorney releases the five Las Abejas prisoners.

Since 1994 The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejrcito Zapatista de Liberacin Nacional, EZLN) declares they are in a state of war "against the Mexican state".  The movement kicks off with the seizure of four cities (most notably San Cristbal de las Casas) and over 600 ranches. They controlled about a quarter of the state.  Las Abejas agreed with the organization's goals, but not with their violent means.  The Mexican army pushes the Zapatistas out of San Cristbal. They then pushed the Zapatistas back to their jungle strongholds.

1996  --  the government and the Zapatistas sign a peace agreement. 

Landowner-funded paramilitaries repress indigenous communities.

1997 (December 22)  --  the Acteal Massacre took place.  45 people were massacred while attending a prayer meeting of Roman Catholic indigenous townspeople, who were members of the pacifist group known as Las Abejas, in the small village of Acteal, municipality of  Chenalh, Chiapas.  The murderers were unknown paramilitary forces.  Soldiers at a nearby military outpost didn't even try to stop the attack. After the massacre, they went to cover-up what happened by cleaning the walls of the blood on them. The EZLN and many Chiapas residents accused the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of complicity in the massacre.

2000 the EZLN renews its resistance.

2003 (August) the EZLN declares all Zapatista territory an autonomous government independent of the Mexican state.