[Military Coup]

(CONACINE-DASA Films, 1976) Dir: Alberto Isaac; Scr: Alberto Isaac and Héctor Ortega; Story: Alberto Isaac, Héctor Ortega, María Antonieta Domínguez; Photo: Daniel López; Music: Raúl Lavista; Prod Mgr: Luis Bekris; Film Ed: Alfredo Rosas Priego; Prod Design: Lucero Isaac; Art Dir: Jorge Fernández; Decor: Ernesto Carrasco; Makeup: Margarita Ortega; Sound: Javier Mateos; Sound Ed: Abraham Cruz; Union: STPC; Black and white

Cast: Héctor Ortega (Belisario Domínguez), Bruno Rey (Gen. Victoriano Huerta), Arturo Beristáin (Sebastián Quiroga), Eduardo López Rojas (Villista general), José Angel Espinosa (Manuel Gutiérrez Zamora), Ignacio Retes (rebel colonel), Alejandro Parodi (José Ma. Iglesias Calderón), Carlos J. Castañon (Lt. Díaz), Delia Casanova (soldadera), Manuel Dondé (Jesús Fernández), Ramón Menéndez (Venustiano Carranza), Ricardo Fuentes (judge), Roberto Dumont (Lind), Mario Castillón Bracho (Aldape), Armando Pascual (manager), Armando Pacheco (senate president), Edmundo Domínguez Aragonés (man in coach), César Sobrevals (man at funeral), Francisco Llopis (senator), Francisco González (translator), Miguel Angel Ferriz [nieto] (Ricardo), Ernesto Bañuelos (Lucio Blanco), José Nájera (Senator Calero), Emilio González (Espinosa), Ricardo Fuentes (judge), Enrique Muñoz (captain of prison), Héctor López (tall man in cape), Guillermo Ayala (Félix Díaz), Inés Murillo, Rubén Hernández Monterrubio (soldier), Roberto Ruiz (sub-lieutenant), Alfredo Lara (Maderista senator), Lucila Retes (woman at wake), Agustín Silva, César Sobrevals (man at funeral), Florencio Castelló (banker), Victorio Blanco (banker), Adriana Taffan (María Hernández), Jesús Duarte (Ramírez), David Arellano, Jesús Juárez (general), Jaime M. Chaires (lieutenant), Héctor Sáez (de la Garza), Martín Palomares (Huerta's son), Juan Antonio Marroz (doctor), Carlos Vendrell (Mondragón), Matías Corona (young man in prison), Gonzalo Lara (policeman), Ángel Morales, Fernando Pinkus (Capt. Braceda), Fabio de Jesús Ramírez (Márquez Sterling, ambassador), Humberto Johnson (sentry), Eduardo Borja (representative), Adriana Rojo (Huerta's wife), Antonio Leo (Matarratas), Christa Walter (Mrs. Lind), Juan José Martínez Casado (old man at graveyard), Abel Woolrich (Captain), Tamara Garina (Russian woman), Luciano Hernández de la Vega (don Urbano), Victorio Blanco and Ignacio Peón (old men), Jesús Gómez (Villista officer) , Ramón Menéndez (Venustiano Carranza), Abel Woolrich (captain), Carlos Aguilar (Col. Heriberto Jara), Lorenzo Aguilar (chief of protocol), Salvador Garcini (Huerta's barber), Fernando Gaxiola (Múgica), Ernesto Juárez (photographer), Ildefonso Téllez (mayor), José Alcalde (Bernardo Reyes); ambassadors: Jaime Humberto Hermosillo, Arturo Ripstein, Gilberto Martínez Solares, Alberto Isaac, Ludwik Margules; Guillermo Hernández "Lobo Negro," Claudio Isaac

Notes: Cuartelazo is a fascinating historical and political film, but it is a failure as a dramatic narrative picture, if indeed that was of any concern to Alberto Isaac. In a newspaper interview during production, he said "I know the formula for commercial success, although Tivoli exceeded the calculations. If I wanted to make films that would make money, I would right now be filming Wakiki [the name of a nightclub] or something like that." (quoted in Emilio García Riera, Historia documental del cine mexicano, vol. 17, p. 243).

Cuartelazo is nearly two hours' worth of political speeches and monologues, scrupulously recreated on a grand scale, but, curiously enough, only the villain of the piece, Victoriano Huerta, seems like a real human being, as opposed to Belisario Domínguez or Sebastián Quiroga, the nominal "heroes" of the picture, who are fairly one-dimensional (Quiroga has a "romance" with a soldadera but this is not developed at all). Additionally, the picture has an extremely complex narrative structure, repeatedly leaping back and forth in time, sometimes with helpful captions identifying the date and place, sometimes not. The viewer who knows nothing of Mexican history or fails to pay very close attention to the screen can easily be left behind.

Belisario Domínguez is a doctor and an alternate senator from Chiapas, who is elevated to the Senate after the death of his predecessor. Victoriano Huerta has seized control of the government from Madero, who is arrested and later murdered. Domínguez and some of the other representatives protest against Huerta's dictatorship: freedom of the press is suspended, those who oppose the new administration are arrested or murdered, revolts are breaking out across Mexico, and foreign powers--especially the United States--are threatening to intervene and "stabilize" Mexico. After he makes a speech condemning Huerta and demanding the president's resignation, Domínguez is arrested, taken to a cemetary, and shot. His body is only discovered a year later, when one of the killers confesses. Sebastián Quiroga, Domínguez's nephew, joins the revolutionary forces of Lucio Blanco. Under the leadership of Venustiano Carranza, the rebels unite and Huerta has to resign, going into exile with his family.

The preceding synopsis is, obviously, a linear narrative but the picture itself, as noted earlier, is not. The picture opens with a printed quote (an Isaac trademark): "The only thing history teaches us is that man learns nothing from history," and the unearthing of the skeleton of Domínguez in 1914. There is a flashback to 1913, just after his disappearance, but from this point on, the film moves freely between various periods and settings, with no clear rhyme or reason. The picture concludes with Huerta's abdication and the aftermath of an unsuccessful "summit" meeting between Carranza and other rebel leaders--the viewer is expected to know this presages at least six more years of warfare between various factions. There is also a printed epilogue stating that Sebastián later held a number of political posts, including senator and governor, prior to his death in 1953.

A fair amount of the running time of Cuartelazo consists of didactic scenes where characters discuss political issues. Sometimes this is in the context of an actual speech, but in other scenes the "speeches" are inserted into "dramatic" scenes between characters. For example, a druggist airs his views of Madero's failure while talking with Domínguez; later, Sebastián's commanding officer reads a long statement from Sebastián's journal about the goals of the Revolution, concluding with a quote by Mikhail Bakunin. Huerta holds forth on his views, Domínguez speaks, and so forth. The most interesting of these sequences, in a stylistic sense, is Domínguez's fatal speech condemning Huerta. Isaac cuts between shots of Domínguez composing the speech (in front of his son and nephew), Domínguez delivering the speech in the Senate chamber, and scenes of Huerta's atrocities (people are shot to death, a man is set on fire, another is hung up and tortured).

One interesting aspect of Cuartelazo for U.S. viewers are the scenes featuring the American representatives. In an early sequence, Huerta summons the foreign diplomatic corps and has his photo taken with them (among the ambassadors, in cameo roles, are directors Gilberto Martínez Solares, Arturo Ripstein, Jaime Humberto Hermosillo, and Isaac himself). Later, Huerta corners the new U.S. ambassador Lind (replacing Henry Wilson) and tries to convince him to recognize his government: "I guarantee to the United States tranquility and magnificent relations of good neighbors, of friends. Only in this way are secure investments possible in our country." Later, Lind remarks to his wife, "I don't know if I must admire this man or scold at him [sic]." The U.S. occupation of Veracruz is represented by some newspaper headlines; Domínguez says, "It is [Huerta's] personal interests and not, as he says, the national dignity that is at stake."

Despite its complex structure and the stilted nature of the political statements expressed by the characters, Cuartelazo is a highly interesting and very well produced movie. Shot in black and white, the film in some scenes resembles actual photographs and newsreels of the era (the opening sequence, among others, is also reminiscent of El automóvil gris, one of the most famous Mexican silent movies). Isaac obviously had a decent budget and considerable official assistance making the movie, shown by the numerous extras and other production frills, as well as the location shooting. There aren't too many touches which can be identified with Isaac--for once, the state of Colima isn't central to the movie, but since it deals with historical events and characters, the director didn't have too much leeway in this area. Héctor Ortega, Isaac's favorite actor, is of course featured, as are Arturo Beristáin (whose resemblance to Miguel Ángel Ferriz nieto is highlighted here, since they play cousins and share a number of scenes together), and some other supporting players (such as Juan José Martínez Casado) who had worked with Isaac before or would appear in some of his later pictures. In one scene, the soldadera played by Delia Casanova washes her feet and puts on the shoes of her late protector, killed shortly before. The shoes are very similar to Anacleto Morones' shoes, which played an important part in El rincón de las vírgenes, but this could just be a coincidence.

Cuartelazo was nominated for 8 Ariel Awards: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor (both Ortega and Rey), Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Music Score, and Best Set Decor. However, it ws shut out and did not take home a single statuette. However, Lucero Isaac did win a Diosa de Plata for her work on the picture.

Cuartelazo is an unusual entry in Isaac's filmography, and not a film which can be watched casually, but it is nonetheless a fascinating movie and political document.


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This review posted 12 May 2001 by dw45@umail.umd.edu