ARTIGAS, LA REDOTA
In 1884, the famous painter Juan Manuel Blanes, from Uruguay, is asked to create a portrait of José Artigas. There is only one drawing of his face, done in his old age so Blanes must imagine what he looked like by reading up on his ideas and learning about his life. Amongst the different materials he is given in order to “discover” Artigas´ features, Blanes finds the notes of an old Spanish spy, Aníbal Larra, hired by the Argentine triumvir Manuel de Sarratea, to kill Artigas, the rebel chief who will not succumb to the dominance of Buenos Aires. At the time, Artigas was hiding out in Ayuí, to the north of what is known today as Uruguay.
Larra, pretending he is a journalist from a newspaper in the United States, crosses Rio de la Plata towards Montevideo, where he discovers Artigas´ different facets.
In Montevideo, a Spanish fortified city, he meets those who believe they have been saved from the siege of Artigas, thanks to the Portuguese intervention. Together with Artigas´ mother, Francisca, along with her free slave Ansina on horseback, they venture off into the territory where the exodus occurred. Having seen the remains of the abandoned village, he begins to discover the other side of Artigas.
When he arrives, this “still exodus” of 8.000 people, makes a strong impact on him. Families and warriors, multiracial and diverse are apparently chaotic yet militarized. There is where Larra will meet the enigmatic character that he must assassinate.
Larra delves into this provisional world; a camp where violence is mixed with innocence. He will try, with no success, to kill Artigas, until he gradually ends up becoming part of this barbaric universe, and different from anything he had known prior to this. A world where everything is still left to be created and the only certainty is that it is entirely different from what people knew then.
Slowly, Larra begins to doubt his mission. This chameleon, this cynical spy who could be an assassin, a soldier or a writer, gets used to living amongst the gauchos and mestizos in a society in turmoil and he ends up joining them.
The sinuous destiny of Artigas is implied. At times he gets closer to his objective but ends up betrayed and defeated in his exile in Paraguay.
The painter, Blanes, will finally understand what trace will define the portrait of Artigas: a utopia that has nothing to do with what everyone in the present can recall.