The Cartagena Brothers: a Portrait of Bolivia’s Revolutions
The Cartagena Brothers, released in 1984, just 4 years after the end of the last Bolivian military dictatorship, narrates the story of Bolivia during the second half of the 20th century, through the lives of two brothers who belong to opposing sides of the political spectrum.
The Cartagena Brothers starts with the revolution of 1952 and ends with the fall of Bolivia’s last dictator in 1981. It narrates the parallel lives of two brothers: Juan José, the legitimate son of Mr. Luís, the landowner, who will become the chief of one of the paramilitary groups responsible for the revolutionary coup of 1980, and Martín, the illegitimate son, the product of the landowner’s rape of a mentally disturbed peasant, who becomes a trade union leader during the same period. The film details the process by which the brothers' divergent childhood situation drives them towards a definitive clash. The separation of the brothers due to class, revenge and ideological antagonism, presents an allegory which refers constantly to the upheavals in Bolivian society.
The Cartagena Brothers has been considered by critics as the first proper adaptation of a piece of Bolivian literature. The director, Paolo Agazzi, who is originally Italian, considers himself as a Bolivian director, as he started his career there and was a pioneer in Bolivian cinema, being the first to explore genres such as comedy, road movies and the western, and moving beyond the political and folklore cinema typical of the country. His films El Atraco, Mi socio, Sena Quina and El día que murió el silencio are amongst his most celebrated. The Cartagena Brothers is inspired by Gaby Vallejo’s first novel Son of the Murdered Maid (Hijo de Opa) for which the author won the Erick Guttentag Nacional Prize in 1976 and which has been considered an essential piece of Bolivian literature. Vallejo, who had an important role during the script writing of the film, is a Bolivian teacher and writer with more than 30 books published.
The Cartagena Brothers is however a loose adaptation of Son of the Murdered Maid as it incorporates the director’s own experiences of the years of the Banzer dictatorship, from 1971 to 1978, and the 1980’s dictatorship of Gen. Luis García Meza, who carried out a ruthless and violent coup. Meza’s government was notorious for human rights abuses, narcotics trafficking, and economic mismanagement, as well as the violence of the paramilitary forces, who often mounted attacks on civilians. The Cartagena Brothers received an ambivalent reaction from some Bolivian critics, who balked at the violence of the film, perhaps a sign of the way in which, in Bolivia, the wounds of the past have yet to heal and the legacy of years of violent upheaval remains acutely painful.
By Laura Vila