A Film For Our Time, and All Times

YouTube Preview Image

 

No one, surely, Venerable Brothers, can hazard a prediction or foresee in imagination the hour when the good God will bring to an end such calamities. We do know this much: The day will come when the Church of Mexico will have respite from this veritable tempest of hatred, for the reason that, according to the words of God “there is no wisdom, there is no prudence, there is no counsel against the Lord” (Prov. xxi, 30) and “the gates of hell shall not prevail” (Matt. xvi, 18) against the Spotless Bride of Christ.

Pius XI, INIQUIS AFFLICTISQUE

 

I knew that my viewing of For Greater Glory was going to be something special when two Dominican nuns, in habits,  came out of the showing before the one my family and I attended and one of them remarked to me that it was a very powerful film.  I replied that we were looking forward to seeing it.  Well, that wasn’t completely true.  My worldly, jaded 17 year old daughter would much have preferred to have been back home killing zombies online with her internet chums.  By the end of the film  she was weeping over the scene in which 14 year old Blessed  José Sánchez del Río, stunningly portrayed by Mauricio Kuri,  was martyred.  I did not blame her.  I have not been so deeply moved by a film since I saw The Passion of the Christ.

Before we go any farther, I should announce the obligatory spoiler alert.  I will be mentioning plot elements that people who have not seen the film might not wish to have revealed to them.  For those wishing to continue on, if you have not read my initial post here on the historical background of the Cristeros War, you might find it helpful to look at it before reading this review.

Like most truly great works of art, For Greater Glory has strong religious themes.  The defense of the Church against the anti-clerical policies of the Mexican government is an obvious one, but there are others.  How to believe in a just and loving God in a world where hideous crimes, often unpunished, are perpetrated on good people?  When may a Christian, even a priest, take up arms?  How is evil to be defeated unless men are willing to fight?  These are not easy questions, and the film, to its credit, gives no easy answers.

The film visually is incredibly beautiful.  The look of Mexico in the twenties of the last century is captured almost perfectly, even by my hyper critical eyes for historical accuracy.  The musical score is moving without being overbearing.  Masters of the film craft were obviously at the top of their game in the production of this film.  It reminded me of some of the best of the historical Technicolor epics of Hollywood of the Golden Age, but unmarred by the obvious historical errors of detail that usually beset those films.

The performances are superb.  Special mention should be made of Peter O’Toole, who, as Father Christopher at the beginning of the film, gives us a vision of wise and kind priest who speaks the words, “There is no greater glory than dying for Christ.”, and proves that his words are not mere words.

Mauricio Kuri as Blessed  José Sánchez del Río steals every scene he is in, and is the center of the most emotional scene in an intensely emotional film.

Andy Garcia, as General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, the atheist mercenary hired to lead the Cristeros because he was a brilliant general, is absolutely convincing in his role.  The film shows him transforming the Cristeros bands into a trained Cristeros army and leading them to amazing victories against Federal forces.  The film also shows that leading the Cristeros was a path of redemption for General Gorostieta.  First, professionally:   after he backed one of the losing factions in the Mexican Revolution Gorostieta was leading a dull life as a soap manufacturer when he received the offer to lead the Cristeros.  Secondly, and infinitely more importantly, spiritually.  His wife, played by Eva Longoria, who gives a surprisingly solid performance, is portrayed as a devout Catholic, appalled by the anti-Catholic actions of the Mexican government.   Gorostieta does not share her faith, but does value freedom above all else and fights with the Cristeros in the name of freedom.  By the end of the film he asks to be confessed and goes to God as a believing Catholic, his redemption complete.

Every great film needs a great villian and Ruben Blades gives a superb performance as Mexican President Plutarco Calles.  The actual Calles was a rougher and darker figure than Blades’ portrayal, but his depiction of Calles as a somewhat oily and cynical politician is effective.

The film is filled with battle sequences that accurately depict the guerilla war waged by the Cristeros.  The film harrowingly illustrates the atrocities of the Federales, especially their charming habit of hanging Cristeros from telegraph and telephone poles.  In the film American Ambassador Dwight Morrow, portrayed effectively by Bruce Greenwood, is shown as fairly cynical as he attempts to broker a deal with representatives of the Pope to end the conflict, until he catches a glimpse of Cristero bodies in the distance hanging from poles and has to excuse himself for a minute before losing his composure.

 

Like any film about a historical event, artistic license was taken with history.  I never like this, although I tried not to be too irritated while I was viewing the film since I greatly enjoyed it.  Here are some of the historical inaccuracies:

Father José Reyes Vega  is one of the main characters in the film and is depicted as a good priest who reluctantly takes up arms and becomes a Cristero general.  The actual Vega was a disgrace as a priest, who routinely broke his vows of chastity and was merciless in his treatment of Federales luckless enough to fall into his untender mercies.  He was a very effective general.  His greatest crime was burning a train filled with civilians after his brother died in taking the train.  The film depicts this as an accident, alas that was not the case.

I am puzzled that the film made Father Vega such a front and center character since there was another Cristero general, Father Aristeo Pedroza,  who was not only a great leader, but a fine priest.  At the end of the film General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde confesses to Father Vega in a moving scene.  Unfortunately I found this amusing since Gorostieta actually once mocked one of his subordinates who attempted to bring him back to the Faith, before he did return, by asking if he should confess to Father Vega, a humorous slam at the suggestion since Vega was an obvious disgrace as a priest.

Alas, there was no killing of the murderers of Blessed  José Sánchez del Río, immediately after his martyrdom, by General Gorostieta.

There was no meeting between President Calles and Gorostieta as depicted at the end of the film.

However, these historical errors should only bother a history nerd like me.  The film gets the tone of the Cristero war pitch perfect, with Catholics battling against overwhelming odds to protect their Church and their freedom, and often paying a terrible price to do so.  Faith and freedom are precious gifts, and unless we have the spine to stand up for them when needs be, they can vanish like a mirage in the desert.  That makes For Greater Glory an important film for 2012 and for every year.

25 Responses to A Film For Our Time, and All Times

  • I saw the film on Friday, opening day, and was very moved by it. I am a B16 kind of Catholic and find the LCWR and their supporters in a role of harrassment against those of us who accept the teaching magisterium of the Church and want to be faithful to its dogma and sacramental life. I wonder how the dear nuns would react to a film where courageous Mexicans were willing to give their very lives for God, where heaven cost them everything. I admire their deep faith and am grateful for their example. What are the LCWR nuns examples of? New Age faux theologies, feminism that supports abortion on demand, gay marriage. Who would die for those things?! They need to wake up. Go see the movie, sisters, and find out what the Church is really about. Certainly not your power struggle with the bishops. Viva Christo Rey!

  • I saw the film on Friday evening with some young men from the Church. The martyrdom of Blessed José Sánchez del Río reminded me of Revelation 6:9-11:

    9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

  • The Mexican Constitution to this day contains many anti-Catholic articles,
    forbidding the church to own property, interfering in Her administration,
    banning monasteries, limiting seats in seminaries, prohibiting Church schools,
    even prohibiting both processions and the wearing of clerical dress outside
    the walls of a church. Some of these laws are now ignored by the authorities,
    but they remain as a threat. For example, a few years back the Cardinal
    Archbishop of Mexico City made a public statement condemning government
    corruption and collusion with drug cartels. As I recall, the president of
    Mexico responded by pointing out that the provisions of the constitution
    remain in effect. The Church’s social services and schools are permitted to
    operate only on the sufferance of the government, and could be swept away
    should She make herself too troublesome.

    I’d imagine our president rather envies Mexico for her modern, progressive
    constitution.

  • My wife and I saw this movie last night. I noted one of the liberties that the film too, namely the burning of the train by Vega. I also noted in retrospect that they made it a point of showing him with several women smuggling ammunition when he meets General Ramirez, who seems to raise an eyebrow about the circumstances. In wanting to be charitable to the filmmaker, I wonder if it’s possible that perhaps other sources picked up Mexican government propaganda and used that as a source on Fr. Vega. I’m sure you’re right about the character of Fr. Vega, but I’m not a historian, so I have no idea what kind of evidence was used in the sources which present Fr. Vega in a rather negative light. Perhaps you can give us more information?

  • I’d like to think this movie may be a lesson for Obama and the secularist. Is there a point beyond which we will resist?

  • “I’d imagine our president rather envies Mexico for her modern, progressive
    constitution.”

    Not just Obama:

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/02/06/ginsburg-to-egyptians-wouldnt-use-us-constitution-as-model/

  • Just saw the movie and certainly can’t add to what you’ve said. All I can say I hope my faith is never put to the test.
    Can you suggest any books on the Cristero war or the period generally? My knowledge of Mexican hiistory is spotty at best.

  • The literature on the Cristero War in English is fairly sparse. The best book is probably Jean Meyer’s The Cristero Rebellion

    http://www.amazon.com/Cristero-Rebellion-1926-1929-Cambridge-
    American/dp/0521102057/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1338758811&sr=1-1

    A good short history is in Latin American Wars, volume II

    http://www.amazon.com/Latin-Americas-Wars-Professional-1900-2001/dp/1574884522/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1338758811&sr=1-10

  • Wikipedia has what I would consider to be a reasonable section on the Cristero War, but I am hardly one to speak authoritatively. It “seems” accurate, to me.

  • (Guest comment from Don’s wife Cathy:) Don tells me the Wikipedia article on the Cristero War is accurate, Don the Kiwi. (Although I’m the one with the university degree in Spanish, Don’s read more Latin American history than I have. At least I can translate the Spanish-language resources for him!)

  • What is the story behind José Victoriano Huerta Márquez, 35th President of Mexico, whose dictatorship the Church allegedly supported, because of which support the anti-clerical laws in the Mexican Constitution were established? Did the Church shoot itself in the foot? I also read that at first the US supported Victoriano Huerta, and then Woodrow Wilson admonished him to restore / institute democratic reforms. Is this liberal progressive revisionist history, or is there some truth to all of this?

  • Few events in history are more convuluted and confusing then the Mexican Revolution that started in 1910. Madero toppled Diaz. He was overthrown by Huerta in 1913 after Madero proved unable to cope with the revolts that he faced. Huerta had initial US backing, but the incoming Wilson administration opposed him and backed Carranza who toppled Huerta in 1914. The Church in the chaos of the Mexican Revolution simply attempted to survive. Mexico has a long tradition of anti-clericalism dating back the first half of the nineteenth century. Anti-clericalists were at the helm when the 1917 Constitution was written. The Church was attacked at the time as supporting conservative forces in the Mexican Revolution, notably Huerta, but that was a false allegation:

    http://pittsburgh.academia.edu/ReynaldoRojoMendoza/Papers/150348/The_Church-State_Conflict_in_Mexico_from_the_Mexican_Revolution_to_the_Cristero_Rebellion

  • Thanks for the clarification, Donald. It’s always best to be properly informed.

  • From Fr Seraphim Beshoner’s podcast “Catholic under the Hood” (Franciscan humor there) an episode about the role of women in the revolt.

    http://catholicunderthehood.com/2011/12/10/278-las-brigadas-femeninas/

    Looking a the show notes he does give sources that interesting.

  • Wow, it’s like we watched two different movies. As important as this story is and as much as I wanted to like this movie as a practicing Catholic, a combination of poor directing, an overblown and hammy score and average to sometimes cringeworthy acting (with a few exceptions – Blades and Greenwood) just ruined it for me. Despite their obvious anti-Catholic bias, I have to admit the secular critics were right in panning this seriously flawed movie. It seems that Catholics are so
    hungry for any movie that treats the faith favorably these days, some are willing to overlook the fact that a movie is just not that good (There Be Dragons is another recent example). We should expect better than this.

  • “It seems that Catholics are so hungry for any movie that treats the faith favorably these days, some are willing to overlook the fact that a movie is just not that good ”

    Or simply have a completely different opinion from yours as to the film. Everyone should go see it and make up their own minds as to the merit of the movie.

  • The movie was GREAT! Absolutely awesome. And head and shoulders above any of the recent releases (e.g., Battleship, Avengers, etc.).

  • I can’t get the scene of the martyrdom of Jose out of my head. The kid was fantastic throughout the entire movie.

  • Dear Donald,
    I was pleasantly surprised to see a link to my paper. Thanks very much!

    I would be happy to hear comments about it and to answer questions anyone may have about the Cristero Rebellion, or about the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary (anti)religious policies.

  • Thank you Reynaldo for writing an epic paper that clarifies a topic I have always found somewhat confusing.

  • My sole complaint about the movie comes at the very end. In order to give the pretense of a happy ending all that’s mentioned is that the church bells rang again. There was no mention of the 6,000+ Cristeros that Calles executed once they laid down their arms. Guess that was his idea of “amnesty.”

Follow TAC by Clicking on the Buttons Below
Bookmark and Share
Subscribe by eMail

Enter your email:

Recent Comments
Archives
Our Visitors. . .
Our Subscribers. . .