Finding Utopia

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Synopsis

Utopía o el cuerpo repartido y el mundo al revés (1976) is a film about two salesmen who pass through the Honduran countryside and along the way find pieces of their friend. They wonder if these findings can bring them closer to utopia but along the way, their meetings with the surreal shows that is not possible.

Lopez Arellano and the Declining State

The Alliance for Progress

Lopez Arellano as president could be described as an anti-reformist. He arranged for congressional elections to legitimize his presidency in 1965 using coercion and illegal means to gain control. The US began playing a larger role in Honduras after the events in Guatemala and Cuba left the nation afraid of communism. The Alliance for Progress encouraged this relationship. Over the course of the 10-year program, Central America received $644 million, including assistance for the Central American Common Market (CACM). Housing projects improved the quality of life in Honduras and infrastructure improved but the Alliance for Progress did not meet its lofty goals and Johnson and Nixon soon lost interest in the region. Agricultural reform stalled and the US’ emphasis on democracy was gone. They now approved of military governments as long as they were not communists. This behavior and lack of care for Lopez Arellano’s human rights abuses left many Hondurans to mistrust the US. The economy started to wain and the country was paralyzed by the four-day Soccer War in 1969. The immediate cause of the war was riots that occurred in the Tegucigalpa soccer stadium where Honduras and El Salvador were playing a World Cup qualifying game. Tensions however had been heating up since the 20s when Salvadoran immigrants started settling in Honduras. 

The 1969 Soccer War

The situation worsened in the 1960s because of Honduras’ Agrarian Reform Law which stated that only native-born Hondurans could receive land under the law. Evictions of Salvadorans followed and this anger manifested at the game, but the Honduran army was no match for El Salvador. The internal struggle that had been suspended by the war came back in 1970 when various Honduran interest groups started pushing Lopez Arellano to hold free and open elections and reorganize the military. Finally, an agreement was made, elections were set for 1971, and Ramon Ernesto Cruz, an ex-university professor won the presidency. However, Cruz lost the little public support he had when his agrarian reform came to a halt. The military acted and in a bloodless coup in December 1972, Lopez Arellano came back to power. Hurricane Fifi, the most devastating natural disaster in Honduran history hit in September 1974. At that time, the press reported that Lopez Arellano accepted a $1.25 million cash bribe with the promise of another $1.25 million future payment, to avoid an increase in the Honduran export tax on bananas. The military replaced him in 1975 with Colonel Juan Alberto Melgar Castro who did little for agrarian reform and was accused of being paid by drug traffickers who used Honduras as a safe haven for their product en route from South America.

The Disappointments of Utopia

Utopia

One of the first stops the salesmen make is to a commune. It seems to be a utopic space with everyone’s needs being met but the upper-class people seem to find the whole arrangement immoral. The repugnant mayor finds flaws in everything these people have independently created because it allows no room for him to exploit. The salesman of the story also agrees. When he first arrives at the commune, he assumes that this house full of men and women is a brothel; when he is told differently and that men and women share tasks equally, he bursts into a fit of laughter. How could that possibly be? The director, Raul Ruiz asserts that utopia is not for the conservatives and the upper classes. Utopia can never be built for everyone. Though, later he also asserts that many of the purveyors of utopia are lying. One of these purveyors is depicted near the end of the film. In a surrealist twist, we meet a man who collects body parts and reattaches them. This is the utopia the two salesmen are looking for, but he is a false prophet. He reconnects the parts but to no effect. He maintains he cannot bring them back to life. Whatever these salesmen were hoping to find from getting all the pieces of their friends is not available to them. For a film called Utopia, there is little perfection to be found in this film. Trying to reconstruct the past or looking towards the upper classes is very clearly denounced by Ruiz.

The Latin American Utopia

Utopia

Ruiz plays a lot with the pleasing landscapes of Central America. Though it may appear idyllic, it is not. Ruiz begs the question: can a utopia exist, but more specifically, can it exist in Latin America? Ruiz seems to think that it cannot. At one point in the film, one of the salesmen goes with the natives of the area to heal a friend. They want to use indigenous methods and when he suggests a hospital would do much better for this man’s fatal wounds, they remain set in their ways. The salesman looks up at the sky and asks the lord why Latin America is cursed to be a third-world continent? He is cursed with knowing this man will die but he also fails to understand the indigenous people’s suspicion of western methods. Latin America appears to be like the Tower of Babel. Many people talk but no one seems to understand. A political figure in the film in a later scene tries to speak to the people and describes the needs to eliminate alcoholism and superstition. His warnings are constantly interrupted by people yelling that they cannot hear him. It seems that if a utopia could exist, the Latin American population is physically unable to accept one.

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