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

Our Lady of the Converted Aztec Laborers

By Courtney Brown, with comment by Kim Weber

[1] The first scene after the conversion of Topiltzin jumps five years ahead to 1531. This montage, complete with a serene soundtrack of violins, introduces the Monastery of Our Lady of the Light. The monastery is surrounded by picturesque trees, singing birds, and a heavenly glow. The bright, soft lighting gives a feeling of comfort and peace, which directly contrasts with the previous scene’s dark and violent whipping or “conversion” of Topiltzin. Each shot in this scene is transitioned through fades in and out to make them smoother, rather than having a harsh and abrupt cut from one shot to the next. The first three shots of the montage draw the viewer closer to the monastery and the chapel itself. It is interesting yet mysterious, inviting yet overbearing.

[2] Inside the chapel, the camera pans from a vertical shot of the ceiling’s magnificent architecture to an Aztec painting a huge mural on the wall. The low-angle emphasizes the importance of the architecture and therefore the overall dominating power of the chapel. The Aztec stands on a platform painting a mural of what appears to be a friar or saint. The figure of the painting is larger than its Aztec painter. The importance of the Aztecs in the monastery is clearly diminished compared to that of the Spaniards and Christianity in general.

[3] Outside, a shot of a stone cross on top of a rock zooms out to reveal a friar performing his daily calisthenics. Crosses are scattered everywhere; it is possible this shot takes place in a cemetery. Nevertheless, religion is inescapable in life or in death, inside the monastery or just outside its walls. The Spaniards are certainly keeping the Aztecs busy; the natives seem to be doing all the manual labor, while the only physical effort exerted by the Spanish friars pertains to exercise (for their own individual benefit).

[4] The next shot looks out into the courtyard, where yet another cross sits dead center in the frame. To the left of the cross, in the foreground, an Aztec works on sanding the side of an archway. Although he is standing on a ladder, he is crouched over in an uncomfortable position suggesting that he could literally be bearing its burden. Two friars, immersed in prayer, pass by in the background without so much as a glance at the laboring Aztec. Two doors on either side of the frame effectively narrow its width and give a sense of the Aztec’s being trapped in the frame, much like the Topiltzin and his people are trapped in the monastery under Spanish rule.

[5] A pig roasts on the fire in the kitchen, and we are reminded of the torches that lit up the stage on the dark night of Topiltzin’s “conversion” and were used by Captain Cristobal to burn the soles of his feet. Once again the Aztecs do the work of roasting the pig, baking the bread, and preparing the food, while a friar merely supervises and gives instructions. The friar brings the fruits of the Aztecs labor into a room full of friars that eat, pray, and read from the Bible. Everything gives the appearance of being neat, orderly, and holy.

[6] Outside, the camera scans a crowd of friars and Aztecs from a high angle as the two groups kneel side by side in prayer. A low-angle shot depicts Fray Diego on the balcony above, chanting “Amen”--the only intelligible line of dialogue in the scene--with his arms spread out in front of him. A cross looms behind Fray Diego, and he wears a small cross around his neck. Candle lights flicker in the background as he makes the sign of the cross, followed by the group below. The left third of the shot is taken up by friars in their brown robes who perform the sign of the cross perfectly in unison. The rest of the shot is filled with Aztecs in white robes, only two of whom make the sign of the cross. One of these two is the only Aztec whose robe is half blue and half white, and he is positioned closest to the friars, but his position in the monastery is unclear. A few women are holding flowers that look more like weeds. On the right side of the frame, a woman holds a toddler on her lap. This toddler starts to make the sign of the cross, but the woman quickly pulls his arm down. Right next to her is a man with a young boy in front of him. In a similar fashion, when the young boy starts to make the sign of the cross, the man (presumably his father) touches the boy’s arm. These are small signs of the Aztec’s resisting conversion to Christianity.

[7] As the group gets up, the scene fades out, and the one Aztec’s half-white half-blue robe is replaced by Topiltzin’s blue robe as he kneels in solitude, possibly foreshadowing Topiltzin’s subversion of his converters. Four horizontal lines in the grass break up the composition of the shot. As Fray Diego enters the frame, arms outstretched, his height seems to measure two lines in the grass, whereas the kneeling Topiltzin only measures one. Fray Diego first bends down to Topiltzin’s level and lays his hands on the Aztec, who appears intensely focused in prayer. Fray Diego guides Topiltzin away, as he feels it is his duty to “save this Indian’s soul.” A shot of the setting sun obscured by clouds concludes the scene, indicating that the Aztecs’ Sun God (and by extension their way of life) has been eclipsed by the Spaniards’. (see comment by Kim Weber)


Kim Weber 2/14/12

The apparent transformation between this scene and the previous scene where Topiltzin is beaten is quite jarring, and Courtney’s analysis caused me to consider the foreshadowing that this creates. The final frame of the previous scene is of the Virgin statue crying as she looks down at Topiltzin. This is significant because it caused me to think that a change would occur and the Spanish would change the way they had been treating the Aztecs. As the monastery scene begins, the exact opposite occurs. The viewer is confronted with a look at the Aztecs in a completely submissive role. They have become utterly dominated by the Spanish and the Christian culture of the monastery. Instead of the change I had been expecting and the acceptance of Aztec culture, it was as if the crying Virgin from the previous scene had her worst fears come true. I think that the crying Virgin immediately preceding this scene is important to consider in light of the detailed analysis Courtney shares for this scene.