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Letters from Marusia (Actas de Marusia) is a 1976 film from Mexico directed by Miguel Littin.

It is loosely based on the true story of a miner's strike in Chile. The setting is the Marusia saltpeter mine, where workers labor under appalling conditions in a status of semi-slavery, with a brutal foreman who whips the workers. Signs of union activity and organization amongst the workers are brutally represssed. When a vengeful worker kills the foreman, the commandant of the security force at the mine summarily executes several workers.

Open rebellion breaks out, as the workers kill the commandant and take over the mine. Gregorio, a Marxist (Gian Maria Volonte) arrives to organize the workers. They hope to spread socialist revolution amongst other mining camps of the Pampa, but an army regiment, led by the brutal Capt. Troncoso, approaches the mine with intention to brutally suppress the rebellion.

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Compare Salt of the Earth, another left-wing film about heroic strikers.


Tropes:

  • Allegory: The whole story is a thinly veiled allegory for the 1973 coup in Chile, which overthrew democratically elected Marxist president Salvador Allende for a murderous right-wing dictatorship headed by Augusto Pinochet. Director Miguel Littin was a Chilean political exile who had fled to Mexico.
  • An Arm and a Leg: A miner detonates a bomb as soldiers are swarming down on him. There's a big explosion, and a severed comes flying out of the smoke and lands in the foreground.
  • Aside Glance: The opening scene features a montage of the workers and their dependents in the camp. Each in turn looks at the camera meaningfully.
  • Based on a True Story: The Marusia massacre, in which some five hundred miners, women, and children were murdered by the Chilean army. For unclear reasons the film changed the date of the massacre to 1907 when it actually happened in 1925.
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  • Capitalism Is Bad: The British mining company is quite willing to imprison, flog, or murder workers in order to get saltpeter out of the earth.
  • Flashback: Gregorio's story is fleshed out with flashbacks. He once had a woman; one of the first scenes shows them embracing in bed. Later flashbacks show that she was gunned down in the street in a different army massacre of striking miners.
  • Gilligan Cut: Soto, the leader of the miners' union, thinks they should let their British hostages go. His reasoning is that he and his fellow miners should be safe in the mine itself, as the army would never destroy the mine by deploying artillery. This is followed by a cut to a scene where Capt. Troncoso says that they will in fact use artillery, and they will in fact destroy the mine, because wiping out the spark of socialism in the workers is more important than keeping the mine going.
  • Hand of Death: All we see of the person that killed the mine foreman is a hand, holding a knife, which slits the foreman's throat.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Bands of workers called "sulfites", men driven mad by exposure to saltpeter. When the women lying down on the railroad tracks are shot by the army, the "sulfites" swarm down on the corpses in a way that strongly suggests the bodies will soon be dinner.
  • Leave No Survivors: Capt. Troncoso gives a specific order to spare no one when the regiment attacks the mining camp.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: The miners are wiped out by the army. Gregorio is captured and tortured before he is finally shot by Capt. Troncoso. But before he shoots Gregorio Capt. Troncoso muses that for all the people they kill, more rise up to oppose them. The last shot of the movie is Soto and his two companions fleeing on foot with the "letters from Marusia", determined to spread the word of what happened there and carry on the struggle.
  • Title Drop: Right before the army makes its final assault on the church, Gregorio sends out Soto and two others with the "actas de Marusia", their records of the strike and siege. (The word actas was rendered as "Letters" for the English title of this movie but would be better translated as "records" or "minutes".)
  • Working-Class Hero: Gregorio, the heroic crusader preaching Marxism to the mine workers, hoping to spread revolution throughout the region. He is one of the last two holdouts in the church, only surrendering when the evil Troncoso corrals all the schoolchildren and threatens to use them as human shields.
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