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Films >> Otra Conquista, La (The Other Conquest) (1998) >> Scene Analysis >>

The Multidimensional Conquest of Tecuichpo

By Jaclyn Ulman, with comment by Eddie Strumfels

[1] Although the Spaniards have already conquered the Aztecs in Mexico, the conquest is not over in this scene of La Otra Conquista. We have just been introduced to Tecuichpo, the Emperor Moctezuma’s Daughter. Don Hernando Cortes has renamed her Dona Isabel, given her part of his kingdom, and taken her as his mistress. With this power, Tecuichpo has saved the life of Topiltzin by claiming that he is her brother, the son of the great Emperor Moctezuma. This scene reveals some of the innermost layers of Tecuichpo, and how the destruction of her home and her people has affected her, as Don Hernando Cortes rapes her.

[2] After seeing Topiltzin and influencing Cortes’s sentence on him, Tecuichpo spends some time praying in front of a headdress. The headdress is blue, red, black, and white, and appears to be made of Quetzal feathers. The Quetzal bird is historically sacred to the Aztecs and Mayans. Their authority figures, such as priests and royalty, are said to have worn the colorful Quetzal feathers during ceremonies; thus, the headdress. Tecuichpo, who stands in front of the headdress, appears to have a very deep connection to it, as she closes her eyes, touches and looks down at her necklace, and begins to caress it rather lovingly. A single tear runs down Tecuichpo’s right cheek as Cortes approaches and presents her with a thick, gold necklace.

[3] This is the point at which the first rape takes place. Cortes whispers in her ear, “Were I this gold necklace, so that I could live between your breasts, Dona Isabel” and puts the necklace over the other one she has on. By calling Tecuichpo “Dona Isabel” in front of this spiritual figure, and putting the gold necklace over the one she is wearing, Cortes is stripping her of her religious and spiritual identity. Cortes continues to do so by asking her to “honor” him and wear the new gold necklace to Topiltzin’s (he calls Topiltzin by his Christian name “Tomas”) conversion, “a great Christian occasion” for Cortes. Tecuichpo, who looks incredibly uncomfortable, agrees, and Cortes rips the old necklace from her collarbone. Tecuichpo then distances herself from Cortes, who looks confused and angry.

[4] The second rape of Tecuichpo is a physical and emotional rape. Cortes tells Tecuichpo, “Don’t think that I’ve fallen for your story,” referring to her claim that Topiltzin is her half brother. Tecuichpo promises Cortes that she would not lie to him, and that Topiltzin’s mother was her father’s, Moctezuma’s, “favorite mistress.” Don Hernando then seductively approaches Tecuichpo, forcibly removes her top, and says, “As you are mine.” Tecuichpo, who looks terrified and very upset, begs Don Hernando to stop, as facing Topiltzin has been difficult. She then grows angry with him, and says Topiltzin’s eyes remind her of that of her husband Prince Cuauhtemoc, whom Cortes “killed for no reason.” Enraged by her outburst, Cortes thrusts her onto the table that is behind her and says:

What more do you want from me? I left Malinche for you. I’ve given you the light of the true God and part of my kingdom. What else do you want from me? That I give up everything and become the scapegoat for your people’s disgrace?

Don Hernando then rips away Tecuichpo’s skirt and begins to rape her. Cortes is clearly enjoying himself, but Tecuichpo is in pain, physically and emotionally. Not only has Cortes raped her body, but he has defiled her religious and spiritual self.

[5] Throughout the film, both Tecuichpo and Topiltzin repeat the line, “This is my body, this is my blood.” Additionally, they both emphasize that the Spaniards can have their body, but not their spirit. These statements are confirmed in this scene. Tecuichpo is a strong, powerful woman, who is obstinate in maintaining her dignity and salvaging what is left of her people. Although the physical and emotional rape by Cortes in this scene clearly upsets Tecuichpo, she does not falter. Tecuichpo may not have been able to ward off Don Hernando and his sexual advances, but he has not broken her down, as evidenced by her persistence to destroy Cortes’s empire and reproduce with Topiltzin in later scenes. In this scene, Don Hernando took Tecuichpo’s body, but not her spirit. (see comment by Eddie Strumfels)

[6] It is important to compare Tecuichpo’s treatment of the headdress with Cortes’s treatment of Tecuichpo as he is raping her. As Tecuichpo stands in front of the headdress, she caresses it rather sensually. The positioning of her hands create an image of her touching a man’s chest, and she continues to run her fingers up and down the headdress delicately. The way she handles the headdress is very gently. The juxtaposition of this interaction and the physical rape could not be any more jarring. Cortes denies Tecuichpo’s pleas to stop, as she does not want to have sexual intercourse with him then and there, and pushes her onto the table behind her. While screaming at Tecuichpo, whose face is full of anguish, Cortes rips off her skirt and forces himself upon her. The contrast between the two relationships in this scene is very great.

[7] By raping Tecuichpo in front of this religious and meaningful headdress, Cortes is being incredibly disrespectful to Tecuichpo, her body, and her religion. This indubitably offends Tecuichpo, because not only is he raping her, but he is doing so in front of an icon that means a lot to her. Just as he is about to rape Tecuichpo, Hernando claims to have given her the “light of the true God”; ironically, the lighting in this shot emanates from the headdress, and Cortes and Tecuichpo are more dimly lit. This suggests that the “true God” may not be Cortes’s god, as the light comes from behind a symbol of Techuichpo’s God.

[8] Some other interesting lighting choices occur at the beginning of this scene. As Tecuichpo stands in front of the headdress before she is interrupted by Cortes, the headdress is very well lit, again suggesting that her god is the “true god.” Additionally, as she holds and looks at her necklace, which appears to have a face on it, we can see a shadow on the wall of a suit of armor with a sword next to it. A similar shadow appears as Tecuichpo is being raped, as well. It is difficult to decipher the meaning of this iron-clad shadow, but it more than likely is to represent the war that is occurring within those four walls. Cortes, whose men fight in armor, is physically dominating Tecuichpo, and the shadows stand to emphasize that.

[9] Before Cortes begins to physically rape Tecuichpo, he mentions that he left Malinche for her. Historically, Malinche is known to have played an active and powerful role in the conquest of Mexico. Renamed Dona Marina, the Aztec Malinche acted as an intermediary for Cortes, as well as an interpreter and advisor. She was also his mistress, with whom Cortes had a son. La Malinche is a controversial figure, since she represents treachery, victimization, and loyalty to the new Mexicans simultaneously. It is clear that leaving Dona Marina for Dona Isabel was a very big decision for Don Hernando Cortes, and this is why he finds it necessary to impress this upon her when she is disrespectful.

[10] In this scene, we see how both strong and vulnerable Tecuichpo is. Her home, family, and friends have been destroyed by the Spaniards, and she is trapped under Cortes’s rule while trying to save what is left of her heritage. Tecuichpo is trying to stay strong in the face of the enemy, but it’s not always possible. As she is raped in this scene -- physically, emotionally, and spiritually -- Tecuichpo’s innermost strength and vulnerability are simultaneously revealed, as well as Don Hernando Cortes’s innermost selfishness.


Eddie Strumfels 2/27/12

The distinction between physical and spiritual domination plays an enormously important part in this film, best exemplified here in this scene and during Topiltzin's apparent suicide. The conquest we first think of regarding Spanish colonization of the Americas, the physical, can ignore the cultural destruction that takes place alongside the physical. Tecuichpo's connection to the headdress, even during an experience of immense physical and emotional torture and pain, echoes Topiltzin's own death and resistance to colonization despite physical domination. Despite an ostensible submission to the colonizer's will, the oppressed natives have managed to save their culture and adapt it to the forced culture of the colonizers.