“499”: The Colonization of Mexico: Fantasy Melded to Horror

“499” recreates the steps and strategy used by Cortes in 1521 in his conquest of the Aztec Empire in Mexico.

The film is a mix of fantasy and horror. Fantasy as it begins with a conquistador swimming to a beach in Veracruz. Who is he? Well he is the sole survivor of a shipwreck of soldiers returning to Spain with plunder but it is 499 years after the conquest that he swims to shore. The conquistador has arrived where the Cortes forces landed in modern day Mexico. He wants to retrace his steps as part of the conquering expedition. At points the fantasy turns into a bit of a Don Quixote adventure as a man out of place and out of time coping with the realities that he faces.

The fantasy ends rather abruptly as he hacks to death two men he sees committing sodomy on the beach. Then reality sets in with real victims and loved ones of murdered Mexicans mostly Indians caught in a vicious drug war where to speak your mind means disappearance and or death. Criminality gone wild that spills into pure criminality that transcends a drug war.

In some respects, the Cortes conquest echoes the French and English conquest of Canada where native tribes were pitted against each other depending on their alliances with the English or French. Cortes also used the Indians to attack the Aztecs but of course next was the conquest of the Indians by the Spaniards. So no moral judgements required on Cortes if you think such trickery was not used against First Nation’s aboriginals in Canada!

Everywhere he goes the conquistador encounters victims of violence. Most are Indians. Mexico is a rathole of violence and corruption. Is there law and order at all?

Does the conquistador regret his role in the 1521 conquest? You’ll see near the conclusion of the film that answer. A colonizer realizing the desperate situation in Mexico that perhaps colonization contributed to. Would things be different if the Aztec Empire had not been conquered and Mexico not been colonized? The film may cause you to come to your conclusion but it would be speculation.

Ironically the conquistador ends up as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant in New York in the land of gold for many Indians of Mexico trying to escape the poverty and violence of Mexico and Central America. Is the point that they are invading the United States looking for a type of gold being that of escaping from the rathole?

A thought- provoking film probing the violence endemic in modern Mexico. Most likely as the conquistador was you may be disgusted at the shambles of modern Mexico. The drug war has oozed into what might call a massacre and intimidation society. Vigilante self protection by the Indians most likely will escalate the violence further.

The musical score is brilliant. The cinematography spectacular. The concept innovative. Eduardo San Juan Breña as the conquistador plays his role to absolute perfection.

The film was the winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 2020 Toronto Hot Docs Festival.

The film will be showing at the Paradise Theatre in Toronto (In Cinema Screening) on August 28/29 with more theatrical dates to be announced shortly.

This 88 minute 2019 film is in Spanish with English subtitles.

It is directed by Rodrigo Reyes. Reyes had the following comment about the film, “Colonialism has different impacts on everyone. That is why I love the idea of an anonymous conquistador so much, a wanderer lost in the world who serves as a link between contemporary Mexico and our colonial past. The conquistador is fiction, but he has to find his place in the real world by listening, for perhaps the first time, to the stories of the real people impacted by new modes of violence. He is a ghost, a vessel for the audience to experience this incredible journey and arrive at their own conclusions.”

You can see the trailer here https://vimeo.com/591016878

Published by Robert K Stephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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