El Compadre Mendoza: Film Review

By Macy Wade

The uprising of young motivated leaders and the public’s disapproval of President Diaz’s work in office sparked one of the most significant revolutions in the world. The Mexican Revolution went on for over ten years, and progress and order were destroyed then reconstructed throughout this time. Many historians believe that the Mexican Revolution was caused not only by Diaz’s inability to run Mexico, but also because of the large plantation owners. During the Revolution, the state owned most of their land, and had the ability to take their land and give it to a peasant village that used it for agriculture. This outraged the large landowners; they were not happy with the fact that the state was not only going to control their land and control the price at which they could sell the goods that they produced, but they were also not happy with the fact that on any given day, the government could come and take some of their land to give it to the peasants. The Mexican Revolution gets difficult to understand at times; its possible accomplishments are obscured.

El Compadre Mendoza was filmed in 1934 in the rural area of Mexico and directed by Juan Bustillo Oro, and Fernando de Fuentes. The movie begins with the shot of the Zapatista army heading toward Don Rosalio Mendoza’s hacienda. Don Rosalio (Alfredo del Disestro) is a large plantation owner who has made an alliance with both the Zapatista army and Victoriano Huerta’s force that represented the national government. Throughout the movie, Rosalio has the different troops showing up to his plantation for rest and to get supplies to continue the fighting. Rosalio has a servant, Antenogenes (Luis B. Barreiro), whose most important job is to make sure that whichever troop is headed toward the plantation, the appropriate picture is hanging up on the wall where the troops eat and socialize. While the Zapatista army is at his plantation, Rosalio pretends to be on the side of the Zapatistas and tells them that he is willing to help at all costs. Once the Zapatista army leaves, the Federal army shows up. Rosalio fills the Federal army with the same information that he did with the opposing army. Both armies fully believe that they have the full backing of Señor Rosalio. Rosalio is willing to risk his life for the Revolution by being a friend to both sides because he does not like the fact that the government is trying to take away his land to give to the peasants in the area. Rosalio is willing to give both sides food, a place to rest, and he goes to the city to obtain weapons for them.

Rosalio goes into Mexico City to take care of business that relates to his corn crop and to get more supplies for the Zapatistas army. While in town, he meets Don Andrews’s daughter, Dolores (Carmen Guerrero), and falls in love with her and Señor Andrews agrees to allow him to marry his daughter. Dolores is not really in love with Rosalio; she seems to act as though she was forced into this marriage. Rosalio liked the physical attractions of Dolores and talked to her dad to get the wedding approved. Dolores did not have much of a say in this wedding. Rosalio and Dolores get married, and the Federal army attends his wedding. During the wedding, the general is inside having a great time with the guests, while his army is outside supposedly watching over the hacienda. The general’s army gets intoxicated. This makes it hard for them to watch over the hacienda. Due to the Federal’s Army inability to watch over the plantation, during the wedding the Zapatista army comes in and tries to kill Rosalio and one of his friends, but the Zapatista general, Felipe (Antonio R. Frausto), comes in just in time and saves Rosalio. This is the first time that each of the armies realized that Rosalio was helping out the other side.

A few years later, Dolores has a baby boy. In honor of the Zapatista general, Rosalio names his son Felipe and asks the general if he would be willing to be the godfather of his son. The Zapatista general spends a lot of time at the Rosalio land. Felipe comes whenever he is not in battle, and is able to get away from the war for a day or two. One day, the Federal’s general comes to the land unexpectedly and talks to Rosalio about setting up Felipe in order to take down the Zapatista forces. If Rosalio could get the general to come to the land and meet up with the Federal general, then Rosalio would be able to keep his land instead of its being given away to peasants in the surrounding countryside. The three men come together and have dinner. Rosalio sends Dolores and their son to Mexico City to escape the Revolution, and to get away from the house so she does not see what is about to happen. Rosalio and the two generals have a nice dinner and talk about how they are going to stop the Revolution. Rosalio leaves the room while the Federal general and Felipe are enjoying a drink. The Federal army sneaks up to the house, and shoots the Zapatista general in his head. Once the Zapatista general is killed, the Federal army now has full control over the countryside. Rosalio is willing to give up the friendship that he and his family had created throughout the movie with Felipe just to have full control over his land in the upcoming years.

The movie portrays the large landowners very well. During the ten year period of 1910-1920, large landowners were not very happy because the government was starting to take over their large plantations and giving part of their land to the poor peasant class for the use of farming. With the large landowners having to give away some of their land, they were not able to make as much profit off their land since they did not have as much of it to cultivate. Also, since the state owned the land, the large landowners were not able to make as much profit on their goods, because the state subsidized a lot of the essential nutrients needed to stay alive. By subsidizing the crops, the state was able to still pay many of the people who worked for them very low wages since the state was guaranteeing the price of the crops. So for the large plantation owners, this was basically a lose/lose situation. Not only did they not have complete control over their land anymore, but they also were not able to raise the prices of their goods when they were in need of a little extra cash. If the large landowners collaborated with both sides, then they would be able to persuade them to not take away their land. This is exactly with Rosalio had on his mind. He was planning on getting on both the Zapatistas' and the Federals' good list. This way whichever army ended up winning the Revolution, then they would remember what Rosalio did for them while they were in the hard times of the Revolution.

In all reality, there are three different forces, the Federals, the Zapatistas, and the Carrancistas, that were all trying to control Mexico during this time. The movie only mentions the Carrancistas for a brief second: while Felipe is at the Mendoza’s land, he is playing with the baby boy and Felipe’s troops run up saying the Carrancistas are coming. That is the only talk about the Carrancistas throughout the movie. The Carrancistas were more involved with the Revolution than this movie portrays, but this movie is focusing on the relationship between the Federals and Zapatistas and how corrupt Mexico was during this time. The Zapatista army represents all of the peasant population during this time that have their land stolen from them by the US railroad companies in order to build railroads and export goods from Mexico to the United States. In return, the government gives them land on a large landowner’s property, and they usually are made into sugar cane workers to help with the exportation of sugar cane. Even though they have a place to work during this time, the large landowners are not paying them good money for the amount of work they are doing. The Federalist Army represents all of the small business owners who feel threatened by the US railroad companies. They feel as though since the US is coming in and exporting all of their goods, they are unable to make much profit off the goods anymore since they are getting exported from the large factories that the US has helped build. If the small business owners are not able to sell their products, then they could easily fall into the peasant class and end up having to work on a large plantation just like the people the Zapatista army is representing.

This film does do a good job at showing how corrupt Mexico was at this time and this makes it very clear that the Mexican Revolution was needed. Rosalio is willing to give up the friendship that he has with Felipe, the Zapatista general who is also the godfather of his son, just to cut a deal with the Federalists army and to end up with a lot of land. It is obvious that Rosalio loses all of his dignity in order to continue to climb the social ladder, just to hope that when the Federalists end up running the country, they will make an exception for him and not take his land and corn plantation away from him. This type of scenario happened a lot during the Revolution. Mexicans did not care that they were killing dear friends and ruining close-knit relationships just for the ability to control their own land.

The landowners were having trouble understanding the fact that instead of being a large landowner who happened to live in Mexico, they needed to start thinking that they were Mexicans first - who happened to own land. The identity of being a Mexican instead of being a large landowner that lives in Mexico had not yet settled in on the society as a whole during the early twentieth century. By the time that the Revolution was all said and done, Mexicans start to immigrate to the United States during the World War II to help out with farming and making ammunition for the United States Army. While the Mexicans are over in America, they realize that it doesn’t matter what little colony they came from, or the city that they had resided in. What matters is that they are all from Mexico and are willing to help out each other when danger comes their way while in America or back on their home front in Mexico. This was the identity that Mexico was trying to imprint in their citizens inside the country during the Revolution and for many years afterwards. I feel that this problem is still a major problem in Mexico today.