Damian Delgado, José Carlos Rodríguez, Elpidia Carrillo, Iñaki Aierra
Comparisons with Apocalypto are inevitable, but largely ill-founded - even though the DVD sleeve does so too. Just to clarify: Conquest = Aztecs, Apocalypto = Mayans. Both in Mexico, both around the same time (16th-century), but this is more of a philosophical drama, ruminating on faith and religion, than the action Decapitalooza of Gibson's work, and was also made all the way back in 1998. Here, Topiltzin (Delgado) documents his civilization's struggles against the conquistadors in illustrated manuscripts; however, these are destroyed and he is subsequently captured and brought to Spanish leader Cortes (Aierra). Initially marked for death, he is saved when Cortes's mistress (Carillo) identifies him as, like her, a child of former ruler Moctezuma. Instead, he's forced to undergo religious conversion and becomes a Catholic monk. But how genuine is his conversion?
The results are somewhat uneven; moments work extremely well, while in others, you can see what Carrasco is aiming for, and he misses badly. Some of the symbolism is too heavy-handed - yes, the Virgin Mary is just as much an idol as Topiltzin's gods, we get it - but there's a particularly fine performance from Rodriguez, as Spanish priest Fr. Diego de La Coruña. There's a connection between him and Topiltzin, in that both are men of faith, and the similarities trouble the priest more than he would like. Credit also some slick, fluid cinematography, which helps conceal a low budget, and the end result is occasionally powerful. Mexican culture retains an odd neo-pagan religious duality even now [as in the cult of Santa Muerte, St. Death], and this does a fine job of depicting its foundations, and the inevitable battle that results when two incompatible cultures clash.
[The DVD was released by Union Station Media on October 16th, with special features including a director's commentary, interviews, deleted scenes and making-of footage.]