The Two Faces of Dios Se Lo Pague

Para la versión en español, clickea aquí

Synopsis

Dios Se Lo Pague (1948) tells the story of Juca, a worker whose invention is stolen by his boss. His wife has committed suicide because of this fact and he decides to take revenge. He chooses to disguise himself as a beggar, becomes rich with the alms, and begins to live a double life as the beggar (Juca) and the capitalist (Mario). He meets a woman, Nancy, and makes her his mistress. She then plans to run away with another man, who turns out to be the son of Juca’s former employer. 

Juan Perón

As we’ve seen, in the 1930s and 40s, corporatist stories were extremely popular. The political message of the day was that all a country needed was a benevolent state that stood firmly in neither fascism nor socialism. With this compromise under an all-seeing state, nothing could go wrong. Argentina was no exception, especially under Juan Perón. In 1943, Perón helped overthrow Argentina’s ineffective civilian government. As secretary of labor and social welfare, he built a loyal following among industrial workers, who helped elect him president in 1946. Perón’s political views drew on both the far left and the far right: while he showered workers with much-needed benefits, he restricted civil liberties severely. In 1948, both he and his charismatic wife, Evita, were thriving.

Under Perón, positive representations of the corporatist state via educators, health workers, the police, and other employees of the state were a constant. It was a reflection not only of the ideological convergence between the state and national film industries but also of censorship laws that proscribed negative representations of the state and its representatives. Dios Se Lo Pague did not follow all the Peronist rules as it was made for an international market, but it was the most ambitious film of the studio era and upheld a lot of Peronist morals. Based on a Brazilian play of the same name, it was a story of two personas and their climactic reconciliation. 

On the one hand, our protagonist is the beggar named Juca who imparts social wisdom to friends like “those who give alms are not generous; they give money in the hopes of being repaid with good luck,” and talks of begging as a real profession which takes skill. For every person he begs from, he uses a different strategy. He is a clever worker that makes his money morally and imparts what little he can. As the capitalist Mario, he is able to be much more generous with his money as he gives Nancy a new life, but his gestures are distractions from the vengeance he seeks from accumulating wealth. These roles he plays seem entirely different but they are joined by their ineffective nature. In neither persona can he really help people or change their circumstances.

Dios Se Lo Pague

When Juca meets Nancy, the two seem different but they share that same emptiness and lack of fulfillment. They use whatever skills they have to read people and try to get money and security from them. Nancy uses a fancy dress to do this while Juca uses a fake beard. The two meet when there is a raid in the casino and get along very well. Because of this, Juca decides to anonymously pay for a night out on the town where she meets Mario. As his second persona, he offers her a new life. She will be his mistress and live with every luxury as long as she asks him no questions about himself. On the surface, it’s a huge change, but in reality, the two have merely changed appearances. The two go from hopeful beggars with only wit to offer to bitter capitalists with empty lives. At a party she hosts on one of the many nights he is secretly out begging, she imagines their future together: her alone at important moments. It’s at this time that they have a huge fight and she begins seeing Pericles Richarson.

It’s also at this time that we see that our protagonist’s two personas are his folly and we subsequently flashback to the moment that made him this way. We find out that his boss had stolen an invention from him when he was just a factory worker and it resulted in his imprisonment for 8 years, and his wife’s suicide. That factory boss was the father of Richarson and that wrong created a wound so deep it cut him in two. What’s the solution? For most of the film, he believes that revenge will heal him, but when he tries, he fails. Nancy takes his revenge against Richarson’s father personally and she leaves.

Dios Se Lo Pague

The real solution comes when Mario reveals himself to Nancy as Juca. When he can tell the truth about who he really is to others, he can tell it to himself. Mario leaves Nancy with a gift proving he is Juca and leaves to sit on the steps of the church, but this time he is not dressed as the beggar Juca or the capitalist Mario. He is without his beard or fancy suit. He is somewhere in the middle, representing a metaphorical conciliation of his two personas. Nancy comes to the church and is also dressed differently, with a white shawl over her head, like a halo that explains the purity of her intentions as she drops the misbegotten pesos and jewels into Mario’s beggar’s hat. The scene looks similar to when they first met as Nancy drops coins in his hat and he replies “Dios se lo Pague.” He said the same thing to the first person that gave him money, but this time he is completely changed. The appearance is similar but the circumstances are vastly different.

Finally, they enter the church and empty the money in the collection basket, thus practicing the life lesson that Barata, his beggar friend, had just taught him: to give freely of what one has and to ask humbly for what one desires. This plays into the spatial corporatist struggle of the film. Mario and Nancy ping pong between the casino on one side of the street and the outside of church on the other, though they never actually enter it. It’s good vs evil and they have finally chosen the good. In the end, that is to say, Mario successfully conciliates labor and capital by using his capital for the common good instead of personal gain or revenge. In Dios Se Lo Pague, the corporatist discourse of conciliation between labor and capital meshes with Perón’s nationalist discourse of a corporatist third way between capitalism and socialism. Not to mention the striking similarities, narrative and physical, between the fictional Nancy and Eva Perón. 

Dios Se Lo Pague

The film is also deeply Peronist in its self-censorship. Filmmakers routinely dealt with this prohibition by transferring any social conflict to a pre-Peronist past. The film appears timeless and no line in the script clues us into what time period we are living in. Furthermore, the biggest form of corruption is twice removed from reality as it is a flashback. Whatever problem occurred in the world, Perón solved it… according to the movies of the time. In his world, two vastly different personas can reconcile and the nation can exist as one happy family.

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