Film Review: 499

A conquistador

In the early sixteenth century, the event known as the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire took place with the invasion of (today’s) Mexico by the Southern European nation. Over a period of two years, the Spanish created a coalition of the Aztec’s enemies and waged war on the Mexica of Tenochtitlan (and their allies), ultimately defeating and largely destroying the dominant Mesoamerican society.  Marking the end of one of the continent’s most distinctive cultures.

Almost five hundred years later and Mexico is a country with myriad problems. There is widespread corruption and poverty, a violent and destructive drugs trade, torture and disappearances, human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings. Whilst the situation has got increasingly worse in a nation where armed groups sometimes hold sway, does the problem lay in its historic roots? 499 traces the violence back to colonisation.

499 mixes fact and performative fiction to analyse the current state of the country. Director Rodrigo Reyes recreates Hernán Cortés’ famous journey from Veracruz to the site of the current-day Mexico City. His conquistador (Eduardo San Juan Breña) speaks to victims of the failed war on drugs, listening to their stories and joining the dots through history. Bold and emotive, 499 is a powerful film which charts a history of violence through the eyes of those whose lives have been devastated by it.

499 opens in BAM Rose Cinemas in New York City on 20 August before opening wider.

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