News, features, and commentary from the biggest city in the Americas, Mexico City.
By Art Rusnak —
What have I learned after spending one hour and forty-five minutes in a plush chair at the Cinemark theaters at Reforma 222 watching Tlatelolco: Verano del 68? This:
1. Mexico has progressed a lot since 1968.
2. Former Mexican President Luís Echeverría was not merely incompetent as President, but he was also a truly sinister human being.
3. His predecessor as President, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, had some of the nastiest teeth I’ve ever seen on a human being. (And the rest of his face was no pretty sight either.)
These were my observations after watching the new film from director Carlos Bolado, which gives a look at the events of the summer of 1968 that will forever be a black mark on Mexican history.
For those not familiar with this dark chapter in the country’s past, that was the year that Mexico City hosted the Summer Olympics. But in the months leading up to the big event, the country saw an awakening of sorts, with student protests posing a “problem” for the nation’s government.
And how did the Mexican government deal with these events? The same way that any authoritarian regime would — by repression, arrests, and yes, murder.
Gustavo Díaz Ordaz was the President of Mexico at the time, and Luis Echeverría was his right hand man, the cabinet minster in charge of the Secretaría de Gobernación (the rough equivalent of the Secretary of the Interior in the U.S., or the cabinet minister in charge of internal affairs).
To be honest, my opinion of both men was not that good before I saw this film. After watching it, I have lowered my opinion of both of them.
The focus of the story in Tlatelolco is the relationship between two university students. Ana María (Cassandra Ciangherotti) comes from a family of privilege, and attends the private Universidad Iberoamericano (Ibero).
Felix (Christian Vásquez), meanwhile, is of much more humble roots and attends the public Universidad Autónoma de México (UNAM).
But the clash of their two worlds is no match for the bloody clash that is going on between the Diaz Ordaz government, and the students of the nation.
Compounding the problems is the fact that Ana María’s father happens to work for none other than the evil Echeverría.
The film traces the months leading up to that fateful day, October 2nd, when an untold number of student protesters were massacred by the government in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, in the Tlatelolco neighborhood of Mexico City.
This was just 10 days before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, and the government of Díaz Ordaz did not want anything distracting from the orderly image of Mexico they wanted to present to the world.
Protests and disorder of any kind would not do.
Officially, some 1,345 people were arrested on October 2nd by federal officials. The number who died is still unknown.
I generally dislike films that display blood and violence. But given the theme of Tlatelolco, it’s hard to avoid. However, I think director Bolado did a good job of keeping the graphic violence to a minimum, while still making it clear what was going on.
I have to say that I found the lead actress, Ms. Ciangherotti, to be quite charming. And I think she did an admirable job in portraying a character who was from a well-off family, but who did not share her parents’ views on class differences.
I also tip my hat to Ricardo Kleinbaum, who played the role of the then Secretary Echeverría to perfection. I was left with no doubt whatsoever that the real Echeverría was exactly the same twisted character behind the scenes.
Roberto Sosa, meanwhile, in the role of Díaz Ordaz, looked like a real putz. He left the dirty work to Echeverría, while making it clear that he supported his secretary’s use of any means necessary to stop any and all dissent. Scary characters, both of them.
And as for Ana María’s father, Ernesto (Juan Manuel Bernal), in him, I saw a man who I suspect was probably far too common in this time. He’s a government official who enjoys a lifestyle the average citizen does not; he goes along with the decisions of his superiors, even when he realizes it’s morally wrong, because rocking the boat would cause too much trouble to him personally.
The other thing that I must highlight about the film is the music. We hear a lot of famous tunes from the era, often cover versions in Spanish, by Mexican artists (a common practice at this time). Great music.
Though the story of this film is fictional (it is a movie, after all), based on my knowledge of this time in Mexico’s turbulent past, I think it did a good job of showing the reality of the era, accurately portraying the actual historic events, while interweaving these events with the story of our two main characters.
And as for the two former Presidents, Díaz Ordaz is long gone, but Echeverría is still clinging to life. I think what bothered me the most about this film is the realization that neither one of these men has ever had to pay for what they are alleged to have done.
A few recent Presidents have tried to investigate the Tlatelolco massacre, but without any successful outcome. During the Presidency of Vicente Fox, Echeverría was charged with genocide, but ultimately, tribunals absolved him of all charges, and he never had to answer for the crimes he was charged with.
It’s a shame that neither one of these former Presidents has had to account for their actions.
But in watching the film, it also gives us a chance to reflect upon how far Mexico has progressed from its repressive past.
The country is a far freer place today than it was during that dark summer of 1968.