Letters from Marusia

Mikis Theodorakis wrote the soundtracks for a lot of films, mostly very well known, often used in concerts, but the film-music of “Actas de Marusia” is hardly used. Maybe  therefore the title sounds rather strange, in my ears. Marusia, not Ma Russia, but Marusia. 

Marusia, geographically

Marusia is not the name of a person, a village, house, or a region, it is the name of a salt mine, about 6 kilometers north west from the village Huara, in the far north of Chile, not so far from the border with Bolivia and Peru. Not so far from the coastline of the South Pacific. On google maps the name Marusia cannot be found, but the salt mines north west from Huara become visible when zooming in. Try it here. On the right, the footer of the map, you can use streetview, and when using that you jump into Huara, and see the houses. I was surprised to see houses and landscapes that could be Greek. I was not surprised anymore about Theodorakis’ connection with Chile. The Marusia salt mines are the decorum of the book, from which the film has been created, and also the music for the film, composed by Mikis Theodorakis.


Marusia, the salt mine

The Marusia salt mine had a monthly production was 865 tons of salt. In March 1925, the mine workers went on strike to demand higher pay, a shorter workday, and better working conditions. While the negotiations were taking place between the company executives and the worker’s representatives, the British engineer who ran the mine, a man much hated because of his habit of whipping his workers, was found dead near the mine. A Bolivian engineer was accused of the crime and executed without due process by decision of the company owners.


The Marusia Massacre

The Marusia massacre (Spanish: Masacre de Marusia) (March, 1925) was the response of the Chilean government under president Arturo Alessandri to a strike by the workers of the saltpeter mine (north west of Huara) leading to over 500 dead, over ninety percent being strikers or their family members.

This was not the only massacre in Chile. Here is a list.


The book: “Actas de Marusia”

The book “Actas de Marusia“, written by the Chilean Patricio Manns, is not based on the facts of the Marusia salt mine, but on “The Santa María School massacre”, a massacre of striking workers, mostly saltpeter works (nitrate) miners, along with wives and children, committed by the Chilean Army in Iquique, Chile on December 21, 1907.

Actas de Marusia book

Patricio Manns (born August 3, 1937) is a Chilean composer, author, poet, novelist, essayist, playwright and journalist.


The film: Actas de Marusia

The film is from 1976, directed by the Chilean Miguel Littin, and is based on Patricio Manns’ book, but the film starts with the historical story of the Marusia salt mine, in 1925, while the info available via internet tells it is about The Santa María School massacre, in 1907…..

To be honest: I did not watch the film, not longer than the start. The story is too heavy. I respect the history, I respect the victims, but the story in itself, as facts, is already enough for me. There is not any need in me to see people shot down, to see a massacre taken place. Not in reality, not played, acted, either, not even if it is excellent acting. What makes it worse here in the film is the lack of excellent acting (performing). All what belongs to the work of the director, does not have the high quality that is necessary in such a serious historical, heavy dramatical story, to show at least the engagement from deep within the actors, in subtle details like eyes, and timing. I miss a lot, and all that together made me decide to stop watching. Therefore I cannot write a summary. Not of the film. Not of the music. Not of the book either. It is possible to read a summary in the New York Times: here. About the music: since the story is about Chile, I expected the musical sounds and instruments of Chile. The soundtrack where the film starts with does not sound Chilean. That is a missing factor also. Theodorakis composed Pablo Neruda’s “Canto General”, a much more Chilean sounding music, why didn’t he do that for this film? In the German wiki about “Canto General”, about the sound, and a story about another film: State of Siege, I found very interesting additional information that fits very excellent within this context: take a look here.

All mentioned arguments could be the reason the film has not become successful. The film has been nominated however for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It was also entered into the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. The film has not been chosen.

Because of the named missing factors, I wonder why Theodorakis decided to cooperate with this director anyway. Nevertheless: the story fits with Theodorakis’ personal commitment with, and ideas about, human rights.


Mikis Theodorakis, human rights and Marusia

When the film “Actas de Marusia” was released Theodorakis had just closed a dramatic period in his life: the military junta governed Greece from 1967-1974 and during that time Theodorakis’ music was banned playing and listening to it. Theodorakis himself was arrested, after having been underground, in August and jailed for five months. When he was released end of January 1968 he was immediately banned to Zatouna, together with his wife Myrto and his two children. From there he was transported to the concentration camp of Oropos. Because of the pressure of an international solidarity movement on the Greek military government Theodorakis was allowed to go into exile to Paris, on April 13, 1970. When the military regime was taken over, Theodorakis returned to Greece in 1974.

Probably his personal terrifying experiences in his battle for human rights have been the reason for accepting the invite to write the music for this story about human rights, the fight for it, and the sacrifices of so many human beings, involved, directly and indirectly. The music is registered on the website for anti war songs, and songs of resistance.

Important detail: the film music has been realised via the cooperation of both Mikis Theodorakis and Ángel Parra!



Sources and additional information



Updated: 9 June 2017: removed the film- and music-links: there is nothing available on YouTube anymore.


About "The Music of Mikis Theodorakis"

The blog "The Music of Mikis Theodorakis" started in 2010. The not-for-profit activities of the initiator were and are to collect, create and publish information about the MUSIC of the Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis via YouTube, Google+, Twitter, and this blog. Sources for this information are utterly strictly related with Mikis Theodorakis' Music only. The icon is a bouzouki. It is Greece's national symbol for freedom. During the Regime of the Colonels (Military Junta, 1967-1974) the bouzouki was forbidden. Mikis Theodorakis used this authentic Greek instrument in almost all his compositions, and Greeks were listening to Theodorakis's music in the underground scene, during the Military Junta time.
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