CRITICISM – François de Riberolles’ formidable documentary series retraces the journey of the Portuguese navigator who first crossed the ocean which he named “Pacific”. This four-part film is broadcast this Saturday, November 19 from 8:50 p.m. on Arte and arte.tv. Do not miss it.
“The two most important historical events in the history of mankind are the discovery of the Strait of Magellan and the crossing of the Pacific.” These words of the 18th century Scottish economist Adam Smith are quoted by the Spanish historian José Manuel Nunez de la Fuente in François de Riberolles’ formidable documentary series The Incredible Journey of Magellan. What to measure the decisive character of the journey started by the Portuguese navigator Fernand de Magellan on September 21, 1519 from Seville.
All the merit of the film in four parts broadcast this Saturday is to pay a very beautiful tribute to an explorer whose exploits remained in the shadow of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492. It is indeed the route of Indies from the west, sought in vain by Columbus, which Magellan nevertheless opened. But the Portuguese navigator, who reproached his king Manuel I for not paying him his fair value, sold his ambitious project to the young Spanish sovereign Charles I, future Charles V. Enough to forge a deplorable reputation as a traitor to Magellan. To the point of partly explaining that it was necessary to wait until the 19th century for his expedition to be rehabilitated. Magellan’s objective was to reach the islands of the Moluccas, in the Indonesian archipelago, in order to bring back cloves, a very popular spice at the time. Thus, at the head of a fleet of five ships, with 237 men on board, Magellan set off across the Atlantic.
Mutiny put down in blood
Thanks to Ugo Bienvenu’s black and white drawings – wonderfully luminous or oppressively dark depending on the vagaries of the weather – the documentary takes us to the heart of the action. The broad, black-bearded face of Captain General Magellan aboard La Trinidad, the admiral ship, paints the image of a man of inflexible determination. An outstanding sailor who, after a first stopover in the Canaries, heads south, towards Brazil, where he stops for two weeks on the site of Rio de Janeiro, discovered by the Portuguese in 1502. From there, December 27 1519, the armada continues south along the Brazilian coast. The tropical forest gives way to a long string of dunes that borders the sea for a thousand kilometres. Drawings and filmed images of landscapes mingle harmoniously.
Magellan sails to the edge of the known world. There he seeks a passage to the enigmatic “South Sea”. At the height of the current Rio de la Plata, he believes he has found a way out. In vain. The place is just a gigantic estuary. Further south, the cold grips the sailors. The Captain General decides to spend the austral winter in a bay he calls Saint-Julien. There, he subdued in blood the mutiny of his Spanish captains. Later, sent for exploration, the nave San Antonio runs aground. The crew is miraculously saved. After five months of wintering, the armada, with one less ship, set sail again. On October 21, 1520, Magellan discovered the strait which would take his name. This documentary series details the thousand and one difficulties encountered to find the exit to the ocean that the navigator will baptize “Pacific”. A name chosen because the weather is mild when the fleet begins its crossing which lasts 105 days, non-stop…
Return via the Indian Ocean
On March 16, 1521, Magellan arrived in the Philippines. He died there shortly after, on April 27, killed in action by a local king who refused to convert to Christianity. Seven months later, only the ships La Trinidad and La Victoria reached the Moluccas. The first fails in its attempt to return to Europe by the Pacific. But La Victoria succeeded, via the Indian Ocean – with 18 survivors, including the chronicler Antonio Pigafetta, to whom we owe the account of the expedition – to reach Seville on September 6, 1522. The first circumnavigation in history was thus closed.