Review: ‘499,’ starring Eduardo San Juan Breña

September 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Eduardo San Juan Breña in “499” (Photo by Alejandro Mejia/AMC/Cinema Guild)


Directed by Rodrigo Reyes

Spanish and Nahuatl with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico, the docudrama “499” features an all-Latino cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A ghostly Spanish conquistador from the 1500s experiences culture shock when he finds himself in Mexico in the early 2020s. 

Culture Audience: “499” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies that blend scripted content and non-fiction content to offer a social commentary on the effects of colonialism.

Eduardo San Juan Breña (third from right) with Honduran migrants in “499” (Photo by Alejandro Mejia/AMC/Cinema Guild)

The docudrama “499” offers a bold satirical look at what would happen if a Spanish conquistador from the 1500s suddenly had to live in modern-day Mexico. The movie cleverly shows actor Eduardo San Juan Breña (also known as Eduardo San Juan) in the role of a ghostly, time-traveling conquistador who interacts with non-actors in Mexico. Various people, including this mysterious conquistador, provide voiceover narration. Needless to say, he can’t quite get over the shock that Spain is still not in control of Mexico.

This film won’t be appealing to everyone. And it could’ve easily veered into the type of “the joke’s on you” tone that’s seen in Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” movies. However, “499” puts a unique spin on a story of colonialism and how colonialism’s effects still linger today.

The movie opens with a brief caption giving a history lesson for viewers who are unfamiliar with Spain’s takeover of the Aztec Empire in the land that is now known as Mexico. The caption reads: “In 1521, [Spanish conquistador Hernán] Cortés conquered the Aztec Empire. With a few hundred soldiers and thousands of native allies, he marched from the coast of Veracruz to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.”

In “499,” it’s almost 500 years later after 1521. And the time-traveling, unnamed conquistador who becomes shipwrecked in Mexico is supposed to be some kind of ghost, but he can be seen by people. This conquistador was a soldier in Cortés’ army, and he has no idea how he ended up in modern-day Mexico. Get used to seeing several scenes where he reacts with shock to things such as cars, telephones and modern clothing.

The conquistador’s journey in the movie follows the same path that Cortés took in his invasion of the Aztec Nation. On the coast of Mexico, the conquistador washes up on the beach and is mystified by the sight of plastic cup and a motorcycle. He gets stared at by people on the beach who have no idea why this person is dressed as a conquistador.

The conquistador sees a water gourd, grabs it, and drinks it, as if he’s been thirsty for hours. In a daze and still trying tor figure out what happened and where he is, he then wanders into an elementary school. He collapses from exhaustion and confusion.

He’s next seen by himself outdoors, wondering to himself if he’s dead or in purgatory. Eventually, he meets a young man who says that the corrupt Mexican government abducted and killed the young man’s father for being an activist and a journalist. The father’s body parts were found in a bag.

As a parting gift, the son with this tragic story gives the conquistador a blank journal. The conquistador says in a voiceover, “Cortés would cry with rage to see the savages in charge again … I discovered they were the children of the devil.”

In other words, this isn’t going to be a cute and cuddly time-traveling story about a conquistador who overcomes his racial prejudice and adapts quickly to his new environment. He literally has an “old school” mentality that Spaniards are superior to the indigenous people of this area.

In the city of Veracruz, the conquistador encounters more evidence that Mexico has an epidemic of missing and murdered people. He meets a mother whose 24-year-old son is missing. And he walks through a protest where people are angry that the government isn’t doing enough to find the men who’ve gone missing in the area. In Veracruz, he also goes to a strip club, and his reaction is what you might expect it to be.

In the Sierra, he’s captured by men for trespassing in their wooded area, but he’s released to continue his journey. He also marvels at some pole acrobats. It’s a scene that makes him look like an awestruck tourist. The movie has touches of this type of comedy, but “499” doesn’t let people forget that this is a conquistador who is very unhappy at that the Spaniards are no longer in charge of the land that he and other Spanish soldiers invaded with Cortés.

In the Highlands, the conquistador ends up on the street with some young male Honduran migrants who are looking for work. One man tells the story of how he had to leave home because he was getting gang threats. The migrants also talk about the dangers of crossing the border into Mexico, such as people extorting bribes and train hopping that could lead to injuries or death.

The conquistador is not very pleased to be in the company of these poverty-stricken and desperate men. But this stranger doesn’t know how else he can find work to support himself. It’s not as if there are employment ads looking for a Spanish conquistador from the 1500s.

The conquistador mutters to himself about the Honduran migrants: “These miserable migrants chase after the promise of glory. They remind me of us.” It’s the first indication that this displaced conquistador begins to see that a Spanish soldier in Cortés’ army might have something in common with these Honduran migrants: being at the mercy of a system where only an elite group of people get most of the power, money and glory.

What works so well about “499” is that it shows how this unnamed conquistador gradually begins to understand the damage that was inflicted in the name of colonialism. And even when a country such as Mexico is independent from a colonial country, he learns that brutality and corruption are timeless plagues on any society. The movie intends to make viewers think about how much humanity has really progressed (or not) when certain atrocities still exist today.

In Paso de Cortés, the conquistador goes on a car ride with a military soldier-turned-drug runner, who hides his identity with face coverings. In Tenochtitlan, he meets another person grieving over a loved one: a mother named Lorena Gutiérrez, whose 12-year-old daughter was kidnapped and murdered, mostlikely by criminals involved with drug deal and/or sex trafficking.

The conquistador doesn’t talk much, but “499” is able to convey a detailed story without a lot of dialogue. His interactions with the non-actors in the movie might look too staged at time, which is expected since they knew they were being filmed for a movie. However, their conversations don’t look scripted. Viewers will get the impression that the people who had conversations with the “conquistador” were told about the concept of the film and were asked to tell their unscripted stories on camera.

Non-actors listed in the movie credits are Jorge Sánchez, Martha González and Sixto Cabrera, but it isn’t made clear who they are in the movie. San Juan Breña, who makes his feature-film debut in “499,” fully commits to his role, by moving and reacting as if he’s really from a Spanish conquistador from the 1500s. At times, it looks like he’s doing a comedy sketch, but he never strays too far from the movie’s generally serious tone.

Pablo Mondragón’s musical score for “499” perfectly captures the mood for each scene. And “499” director Reyes brings the right amount of light-hearted flair so that the movie’s tone doesn’t get too dark. The unnamed conquistador isn’t supposed to be a hero or a villain but someone who is a product of a certain environment at a particular point in time.

The end of the movie shows what happened to the conquistador. It’s enough to say that he doesn’t have a time travel machine that will take him back to the 1500s. How the movie concludes is a commentary on what can happen when people open their minds up to different perspectives.

Cinema Guild released “499” in New York City on August 20, 2021. The movie’s release expanded to Los Angeles on August 27, 2021, and San Francisco on September 3, 2021, with more U.S. cities in subsequent weeks.

2020 Tribeca Film Festival: jury winners announced

April 29, 2020

Tribeca Film Festival - white logo

The following is a press release from the Tribeca Film Festival:

 The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, announced the winners for the 2020 juried competition, awarding top honors from this year’s program. Tribeca has continued its commitment to celebrating storytellers while the 19th edition, previously set to take place April 15-26, 2020 in New York City, is being rescheduled.

The Half of It was honored with The Founders Award for Best U.S. Narrative Feature; The Hater for Best International Narrative Feature; and Socks On Fire for Best Documentary Feature. Shorts awards went to No More Wings for Best Narrative Short; My Father The Mover for Best Documentary Short; Friends for Best Animated Short and Cru-Raw for the Student Visionary Award. The Nora Ephron Award went to director Ruthy Pribar for her feature Asia. The award was created seven years ago to honor excellence in storytelling by a female writer or director who embodies the spirit and boldness of the late filmmaker. The full list of films and filmmakers honored are highlighted below.

“We are fortunate that technology allowed for our jury to come together this year to honor our filmmakers,” said Tribeca Film Festival Co-Founder and CEO Jane Rosenthal. “Despite not being able to be together physically, we were still able to support our artists, which has always been at the heart of the Festival.”                                                                                    

“While we are not yet able to celebrate these incredible films at their premieres, we are so proud to celebrate them in partnership with our generous jurors through our 2020 Tribeca awards,” said Festival Director Cara Cusumano. “The jury chose to recognize a daring, innovative, entertaining, diverse group of films and filmmakers, and the Festival is pleased to honor all of them with our first ever virtual awards ceremony.”

 Tribeca’s Art Awards, in partnership with CHANEL, honor winners in select categories with original pieces from ten world-class artists, a tradition since the Festival’s beginning. This year’s selections were curated by notable gallerist Vito Schnabel.

 As announced in early April, select programming from the 2020 edition was made available online for the public, industry, and press. This included: Immersive programming/Cinema360, the N.O.W. Creators Market, Tribeca X, Extranet Industry Resource Hub. Additional online programming will be announced in the coming weeks including Tribeca Talks @ Home, which debuted last week with Cinema360 discussions and will continue on May 3rd featuring the creators of selections from the 2020 program. More information can be found here. Projects included are: Bad Education (HBO), Inheritance (DirecTV/Vertical), I Promise (Quibi), Normal People (Hulu), Not Going QuietlyThe Great (Hulu), The Half of It (Netflix).

 Winners of the juried awards, presented by AT&T; Art Awards in partnership with CHANEL; Tribeca X, sponsored by PwC; and the jury participants are as follows:


The jury comprised of Cherien DabisTerry Kinney and Lucas Hedges awarded the following:

Daniel Diemer and Leah Lewis in “The Half of It” (Photo by KC Bailey/Netflix)

Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature – The Half of It, directed by Alice Wu.

  • Jury Comment: “The film is so charming, it’s so energetic, it’s so fun, it’s so well-paced, it’s directed with such a sure hand, it’s a really confident film and the characters are really well drawn and the actors were fantastic.”
  • Art Award: Julian Schnabel‘s Le Scaphandre et le Papillon, 2007. Oil on map.

Best Actress in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film – Assol Abdullina, Materna.

  • Jury Comment: “Assol just has so much compelling energy; her emotions ran so deep…we cared about her dilemma.”

Sasha Knight and Steve Zahn in “Cowboys”

Best Actor in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film – Steve Zahn, Cowboys.

  • Jury Comment: “Steve showed great range in playing this character.”

Lindsay Burdge and Jade Eshete in “Materna” (Photo by Greta Zozula)

Best Cinematography in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film – Materna, Greta Zozula, Chananun Chotrungroj, Kelly Jeffrey, Cinematographers.

  • Jury Comment: “The visuals were striking and played with color, light and dark, in a very interesting way.”
  • Special Jury Mention for Cinematography: My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To.

Steve Zahn and Sasha Knight in “Cowboys”

Best Screenplay in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film – Cowboys, Anna Kerrigan, Screenwriter.

  • Jury Comment: “A beautiful portrait of a father and his transgendered son.”


The jury comprised of Sabine HoffmanJudith GodrècheDanny BoyleWilliam Hurt, and Demián Bichir awarded the following:

Maciej Musiałowski and Agata Kulesza in “The Hater” (Photo by Jaroslaw Sosinski)

Best International Narrative Feature – The Hater (Poland), directed by Jan Komasa.

  • Jury Comment: “Incredibly relevant for today; we were really impressed by the way it portrayed a character that is not immediately empathetic but really got us into the journey and the story.”
  • Art Award: Helen Marden‘s January Golden Rock, 2020. Watercolor on paper.
  • Special Jury Mention: Ainu Mosir


Best Actor in an International Narrative Feature Film – Noe Hernandez, Kokoloko (Mexico).

  • Jury Comment: “For his raw and brave performance, taking a giant leap of faith, hand-to-hand with his director.”

Shira Haas and Alena Yiv in “Asia” (Photo by Daniella Nowitz)

Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature Film – Shira Haas, Asia (Israel).

  • Jury Comment: “Her face is a never-ending landscape in which even the tiniest expression is heartbreaking; she’s an incredibly honest and present actress who brings depth to everything she does.”

Alena Yiv in “Asia” (Photo by Daniella Nowitz)

Best Cinematography in an International Narrative Feature Film – Asia (Israel)Daniella Nowitz, Cinematographer.

  • Jury Comments: “We were impressed with how the cinematography was supporting the emotionality of the story and was allowing us to really deeply feel with the characters.”

“Very simply and beautifully done.”

Ashish Vidyarthi and Suhasini Maniratnam in “Tryst With Destiny”

Best Screenplay in an International Narrative Feature Film – Tryst With Destiny (India, France), Prashant Nair, Screenwriter.

  • Jury Comments: “How cleverly conceived and executed this script was!” “Beautifully made film.”



The jury comprised of Yance FordRegina K. ScullyRyan Fleck, Chris Pine, and Peter Deming awarded the following:


Bo McGuire in “Socks on Fire” (Photo by Matt Clegg)

Best Documentary Feature – Socks on Fire, Bo McGuire, Director.

  • Jury Comment:  “The film used new techniques woven into documentary filmmaking and narrative storytelling.”
  • Art Award: Sterling Ruby‘s DRFTRS, 2020. Collage, paint and glue on paper.
  • Special Jury Mention: Wonderboy

Eduardo San Juan Breña in “499” (Photo by Alejandro Mejía/AMC)

Best Cinematography in a Documentary Film – 499, Alejandro Mejia, Cinematographer.  

  • Jury Comment: “The filmmakers did an incredible job of weaving this fictional story into what’s happening today with the disappeared and to marry such grand visions that cinema can only do.”


‘Father Soldier Son” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Best Editing in a Documentary Film – Father Soldier Son, Amy Foote, Editor.

  • Jury Comment: “Such a well-crafted film from start to finish; a story that stays with you.”


The jury comprised of Lukas Haas, Juno Temple, Nat Wolff, Grace Van Patten, and James Ponsoldt awarded the following:

Jorge Garcia in “Nobody Knows I’m Here”

Best New Narrative Director – Nobody Knows I’m Here, Gaspar Antillo, Director.

  • Jury Comment: “A film that felt vital and alive, and every time we thought we knew who the protagonist was or what the world was it evolved and revealed more of itself to us.”
  • Art Award: Rita Ackermann‘s The Working Woman 3, 2018. Oil, crayon and graphite on paper.


The jury comprised of Erin Lee CarrStacey ReissJosh HutchersonJoel McHale, and Gretchen Mol awarded the following:


Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award – Jacinta, Jessica Earnshaw, Director.

  • Jury Comments: “Incredibly engaging filmmaking,” “very moving, beautifully done.”
  • Art Award: Gus Van Sant‘s Achelous and Hercules, 2016. Enamel on paper.
  • Special Jury mention: The Last Out


The jury comprised of Gina RodriguezAparna NancherlaAnna BaryshnikovRegina Hall, and Lizzy Caplan awarded:

Alena Yiv and Shira Haas in “Asia” (Photo by Daniella Nowitz)

The Nora Ephron Award – Asia, Director, Ruthy Pribar.

  • Jury Comment: “From the writing, to the directing, to the camera moves, to the direction for the acting, to the way Ms. Pribar told a story through non-speaking was just outstanding.”
  • Art Award: Pat Steir‘s Untitled, 2008. Oil, pencil, ink, and acrylic on paper.
  • Special Jury Mention: My Wonderful Wanda


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