It’s a tale of love, betrayal and history’s most famous murder by ice pick.
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The plot to assassinate Leon Trotsky, the Soviet revolutionary-turned-exiled dissident, in Mexico City in 1940, is at the heart of “El Elegido” (“The Chosen”), an upcoming movie that’s set to wrap shooting in this capital in the coming days.
Told from the perspective of Ramon Mercader, the Spaniard who wielded the murder weapon, it recounts how the young communist recruited and trained by the Soviet secret service seduced an American woman who was close to Trotsky to get to his target.
“It’s a very juicy story because it’s the consummation of a great treachery. … He betrays someone who has delivered her body and soul to him,” director Antonio Chavarrias told The Associated Press during a visit to the set. “That’s really suggestive. It adds complexity to the plot.”
“El Elegido” stars Mexican actor Alfonso Herrera (“The Perfect Dictatorship”) as Mercader; British stage veteran Henry Goodman as Trotsky; and Hannah Murray, best known for portraying the single-mom wildling Gilly in “Game of Thrones,” as Sylvia Ageloff, the dupe who fell in love with the Spanish assassin.
After founding the Red Army and serving as the equivalent of Soviet defense minister, Trotsky became a political pariah and was expelled from the country in 1929.
A death sentence from Josef Stalin hanging over his head, Trotsky traveled to Turkey, France and Norway before Mexico agreed to take him in 1937. He settled in the colonial-bohemian Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacan, which was home to famed artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo — the latter of whom had an affair with Trotsky.
Neither Rivera nor Kahlo appear in the movie, but some scenes were filmed in the Coyoacan home where Trotsky lived and where Mercader sank the pick, a mountaineering tool also called an ice axe, into Trotsky’s head. The house has been preserved as a museum.
“I think (the assassination) wasn’t the fault of the Mexican police, because Trotsky even had his own bodyguards,” said Emilio Echevarria, who plays the Mexican colonel in charge of Trotsky’s guard. “What happened was an intrigue in which the killer took advantage of a woman by seducing her.”
Other scenes were shot in the Journalists’ Club in the city’s historic core. On a recent day, the elegant space with vaulted ceilings, columns and marble floors had been transformed with antique furniture into the setting for Mercader’s interrogation following the assassination.
“Who are you?” the killer’s inquisitors demanded.
“I’m Jacques Mornard, a Belgian citizen,” he replied.
“That’s a lie,” a detective snapped, dealing him a smack to the head.
Filming moves next to Barcelona, where the crew will spend two more weeks shooting scenes set in Spain, France and New York.
Budgeted at $7.8 million and scheduled to premiere in 2016, it is the first movie about Trotsky and Mercader to be shot in Mexico and Spain.
Chavarrias, the director, called Mercader’s years-long effort to kill Trotsky “a fascinating tale.”
“It has global significance,” he said. “And there’s also a very powerful human story behind it, because it’s easy to fall in love.”