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¡Viva Garcia! Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 04 June 2012

On the way out of the theater the other day, I heard two women chatting about Andy Garcia, star of the movie we’d just watched, For Greater Glory. Cleary they not only found Mr. Garcia hunky, they also assumed he’d written, directed, and produced the movie. No, he did not. And then one said:

“You know, the movie’s really about Obama’s attack on our religious freedom.”

Well, no to that too: filming began in 2010, well before “religious freedom” became our phrase de jour.

I was drawn to the film because one of its cast members, Eduardo Verástegui, is a very devout Catholic, but I feared it would be (as to an extent it is) the sort of special-effects dominated “noiser” you pray won’t have important scenes obscured by mind-numbing explosions, fireballs, and cannon smoke – especially so because the film is directed by first-timer Dean Wright, veteran visual-effects genius whose credits include work with James “Titanic” Cameron and Peter “Lord of the Rings” Jackson – and on the Narnia films.

And what to think of the fact that in Mexico For Greater Glory has become, as Mr. Garcia (also Catholic) said in a recent interview, “the second highest grossing film since Titanic.” Did all those movie patrons show up because of the FLASH! BANG! or was it, perhaps, because of that line of Spanish dialog you hear in the American trailer: “Viva Cristo Rey”? Hail, Christ the King! Not the sort of thing one usually hears on TV.

But I get ahead of myself.

No doubt you already know that the film is about the 1926-1929 Cristero War (in Spanish La Cristiada), a counter-revolutionary effort by Catholics to overthrow the secular Mexican government, which had begun enforcing anticlerical provisions of the 1917 constitution. A chilling example of those provisions is Article 30: “. . . the State and the churches are separated entities from each other. Churches and religious congregations shall be organized under the law” [emphasis added]. Pius XI condemned all of this in his 1926 encyclical, Iniquis Afflictisque, although he never actually offered support for the Cristeros.

Under Mexico’s atheist president, Plutarco Elías Calles, “church property was seized, all foreign priests expelled, and the monasteries, convents and religious schools closed.” And so the revolt, and so the film.

Mr. Verástegui has called For Greater Glory Mexico’s Schindler’s List. And as he (who is Mexican) and Mr. Garcia (who is Cuban-American) have said, the true events portrayed in the film have been overlooked for generations, even in Mexico. This may be because, in reality, few emerged from the Cristero War covered in glory, except the martyrs. (A great source for more information is the first chapter of my colleague Robert Royal’s magisterial The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century: A Comprehensive World History.)

 
The real Enrique Gorostieta, left, and as portrayed by Andy Garcia

Mr. Verástegui plays the martyr Anacleto Gonzalez Flores, who was beatified by Benedict XVI in 2005, and Mr. Garcia plays the extraordinary Enrique Gorostieta, a lifelong soldier, whose political activities had forced him to flee Mexico, first to Cuba (Mr. Garcia’s birthplace) and then to the United States (where Mr. Garcia and his family fled when he was five). Gorostieta returned to his homeland to lead the Cristeros, despite the fact that his view of religion wasn’t much different from that of Calles’. But he says to his wife (in the film):

“I may have issues with the Church. But I believe in religious freedom.”

Garcia portrays Gorostieta with measured, conscious restraint. This is a man who knows himself, knows his job, and knows how to lead. He is every inch a general. And so when in several scenes emotion washes over him, the effect is powerful – especially so in scenes involving the capture and later martyrdom of Blessed José Luis Sanchez (well acted by 14-year-old Mauricio Kuri). But good as Mr. Garcia is, the show is nearly stolen by Oscar Isaac, whose moustache doesn’t seem real but whose portrayal of Victoriano “El Catorce” Ramirez is a genuinely remarkable union of faith and fury, mostly fury.

Overall though, I must say this is by no means a great film. Mr. Wright’s approach – the direction, the script, and the editing – is choppy; there’s no other word for it. And there are scenes that simply make no sense. And there are rather a lot of people looking alarmed and saying: “Run!” or “Go now!” Indeed, much of the film teeters on the edge of telenovela melodrama. James Horner’s music will swell as the camera pans up or down to reveal – what wonder? – an ordinary landscape, it turns out, or a special effects shot that just isn’t special. There’s much discussion among generals about how many thousands of troops will deploy in the war or how many hundreds have died in a battle, but Mr. Wright never shows us more than a skirmish. There’s no . . . epic sweep. And Eva Longoria (as the wife of Gorostieta) is wasted.

And the film fails to mention – although viewers may infer it – that in one of those unsettling ironies of history, once the Church had negotiated an agreement to begin restoration of the rights of clergy, the Vatican turned on the Cristeros and threatened excommunication to those who continued fighting for the full restoration of their human rights.

Still, as Archbishop Charles Chaput has wisely said, this is “a film that no Catholic should miss this summer. . . . For Greater Glory captures with memorable power and grace where . . . bigotry can lead – and the cost of resisting it.”

As the end credits rolled, I thought of T.S. Eliot:

We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that it will triumph.
And we fight, because religious freedom is worth fighting for. 


Brad Miner
is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, a senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review.
 
 
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Comments (13)Add Comment
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written by Frank, June 04, 2012
I saw the movie this past Friday night. It's a long haul of two hours and 23 minutes but I think well worth the time. I agree that the movie is NOT motivated by or from Obama's recent actions against the Church but Calles's words both public and private (in the movie)are eerily similar to Obama's.
I would be surprised if this movie was nominated for any Oscar as "the Academy" collectively views the Church with absolute contempt. But the story is now out there for all to see if they wish and who knows what will come of all of it.
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written by Dave, June 04, 2012
Although "religious freedom" did not become the "phrase du jour" until early this year, the attacks on our religious freedom had already begun when filming of "For Greater Glory" started in 2010. A perusal of the USCCB Office of General Counsel Rulemaking page shows that the Conference has been protesting incursions -- attacks -- against religious liberty since March 2009, a mere two months after President Obama's inauguration. Too, we have the very public record of the President, and the Secretary of State, never referring to "freedom of religion" in public remarks: since 2009, since the Inauguration, the reference is always to "freedom of worship," which is a much more restricted right -- one guaranteed by the Soviet Constitution of 1936, by the way -- as its effect is to say that one may worship as one wishes, in buildings set aside for that purpose or in one's home, but once outside the building (church or home), the claims of religion are left behind -- unless one's religion happens to support the President's very progressive domestic agenda. The attacks were insidious and apparently small prior to the HHS rule, but they laid the groundwork for it.

What it shows is the constant animosity of the Left, now progressive, now socialist, now and again communist, against any religion it cannot co-opt for its own purposes, and the price that heroic resistance sometimes requires. "Progressive" religionists need not worry under the regime that is unfolding; or, better, for it matters not whether this or that Administration is Democrat or Republican, religion that supports the State need not worry. But once the State is the final arbiter of what is and is not religion and legitimate religious activity, the war against the Church becomes overt, and the only question is to the degree of the State's hostilities against her.

I put in a plug for Mr. Miner's Compleat Gentleman: every man must be monk, scholar, warrior; every man must be a man of prayer, a student -- of the Faith, of Church history, of history in general, and of current events; and prepared to contend for the Truth, no matter the cost. I say "man" here intentionally for two reasons: women are more prayerful, studious, and prepared to contend than men are these days; and, pace the current nostrums in the Church, men -- laymen -- have an indispensable role in passing on the Faith to their children and in demanding that the rights of the Church, of the faithful, and of all believers be protected in the public realm.

And so I ask everyone who reads these remarks to become men and women of prayer, and to go deeper into the life of prayer than ever before, for the contending is first of all spiritual; to deepen one's knowledge of the Faith and of history; and to become more apostolic in one's ordinary environment than one can imagine possible. Even now the fields are white for the harvest; even now the triumph of Our Lady's Immaculate Heart can avert our nation and world from great disaster -- but not without the prayer, study, and apostolic action of the faithful.
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written by Grump, June 04, 2012
Since I live in a rural area that rarely gets limited-released movies, I probably won't get a chance to see this in a theater. Based on Rotten Tomatoes, the critics gave this only about a 20% "fresh" rating while 80% of audiences liked it. From what I've read, Calles is painted so cartoonish and villainous he comes across as a sort of Mexican Snidely Whiplash. You can easily tell the good guys from the bad guys throughout. There was another film -- The Mission -- years ago that portrayed 18th century Spanish Jesuits trying but failing to protect a remote South American Indian tribe in danger of falling under the rule of pro-slavery Portugal. It didn't make much of an impact.
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written by Richard A, June 04, 2012
When you're applying for the job of leader of the people's revolution, don't the resume scanners say "But, but, ... your name is PLUTARCO!! How can you be taken seriously?!"
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written by Graham, June 04, 2012
Andy Garcia on Michael Medved was diplomatic in explaining why the film was made. Careful, ironically, to de-emphasize any primarily Catholic significance. I don't blame him. Hollywood and the media are hostile territory and seeded with rhetorical mines lightly sprung for political transgressions. Meanwhile an Evangelical radio show this weekend was critical that Christians would oppose with arms a religious oppression enforced by them. Archbishop Chaput in his review quotes the death toll during the conflict as at least 90,000. My impression is that most Americans still see this situation as mostly a "Catholic problem." Apparently almost half of Catholics see no current serious Constitutional issues according to one poll. More absurdly are those who see recalling this ugly past as "anti-Mexican" and therefore anti-immigrant. I'm beginning to wonder if the bias against "linear thinking" means in practice no thinking. Never, for example, mention that Mexico is one of the most corrupt and oligarchical countries in the western hemisphere. Mexicans come to Michigan for the snow, sleet, ice and an almost English ration of sunlight. It is the paradox of leftist compassion becoming in reality a pitilessness toward those they claim to defend against American xenophobia or social injustice. Exhibit A: the City of Detroit. Just three miles down the road from where I'm writing this. Southeastern Michigan Catholics were so pro-Obama in 2008 that even now I would not think of broaching the topic of HHS mandates before or after Mass or to any casual acquaintance whom I know to be Catholic.

The release of THE CRISTEROS WAR may be providential. I pray it is.
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written by Manfred, June 04, 2012
My wife and I saw the film as well and it was obvious that La Cristiada took place pre-Vat II. The Masses were ad orientem, the priest/Cristero refuses to give his general (Garcia) Holy Communion until he confesses, and the war produced martyrs. Today there would be no war as intense dialoguing would occur in order to find a "common ground", while the government contracepted and aborted the members of the Cristero movement's families out of existence. The Cristeros would never be able to agree on what Catholicism was as one group would be quoting bishops and another the LCWR and the whole movement would become moribund. My wife and I felt very uplifted to see that the Church at a former time could produce Catholics of the caliber as portrayed in this fine film. Viva Cristo Rey!
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written by Romulus, June 04, 2012
Saw the movie with my wife Friday night. It is more than timely and I recommend it gladly for its topicality and historical interest. That said, I regret that as a work of art, the film disappoints. It's not without its good points, especially the production values and acting, in which I was more than pleased. But the screenplay is a letdown -- sprawling, anachronistic, heavy-handed, somewhat muddled (to me, anyway), with some gratuitous scenes that did little to move the story forward. The great question -- the moral struggle by which one comes to decide whether and how to act in the face of oppression -- was not treated seriously; nor was the moral ambiguity of leading characters on either side of the conflict: on one side, doing evil in the disordered search for a sentimental, utopian good; on the other, doing (mostly) good, in a just cause, notwithstanding personal sinfulness, lack of faith, etc. The battle scenes were cartoonish presentations of near-superhero killing prowess on the part of the good guys, as faceless Federales (poor chaps) fell left and right. Though I understand and accept dramatic license, the screenplay takes more historical liberties than seemed necessary to me. Is it really true that the narrative of Jose Sanchez del Rio's martyrdom is attributable to Marcial Maciel? If so, those scenes are irredeemably tainted for me. The subject is sufficiently serious to deserve more than a sanitized, feel-good treatment.

Musically, the film offers a forgettable, off-the-shelf Hollywood score not recognizably Mexican in flavor, notwithstanding the splendid possibilities of the Mexican folk catalogue which with a little imagination (and possibly less money) could have made the movie's soundtrack a sought-after purchase in its own right.

As I say above, I think the movie's uncanny appositeness along with its good points makes it well worth viewing and pondering. I hope it does well though I fear it won't.
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written by Martial Artist, June 04, 2012
I saw the movie yesterday afternoon, and was quite moved. It is good to be informed of the omissions from the historical record, but I hope and pray that it may also prove providential in waking up some or our (seemingly) sleeping brethren as to the radical orientation of the current administration.

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., June 04, 2012
Unfortunately the word propaganda has aquired a totally negative conotation, as if it were synonymous with deception. This movie propagates some very important truths that everyone who cares about freedom should be aware of. Since it is itended to propagate certain truths we need not subject it to the same standards we would if its creators were purporting to be offering us great art. Reading some of the criticisms of everything from its editing to its musical score gave me the impression that some people want to preempt the film's critics in order to prove that they themselves are not philistines. Put down the wine and cheese already and tell people to see this movie and find the connection between Calle regime and the double tallking ruling elite in the West today who claim that they respect our reilgious freedom and think that will be impressed by the appointing of self-exommunicated Catholics to high positions. Both Manfred and Dave are correct in nearly all that they wrote. BTW, concerning the music, can you imagine the cries of racism we would have heard from the PC gang if they actaully had compoased a score that sounded remotely Mexican. Come to think of it, it was better not have a Mexian soudning score in order to stress the universal truths being propagated.
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written by Brad Miner, June 04, 2012
Mr. Coleman: Have you seen the film?
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, jr., June 04, 2012
Dr. Miner: Yes I saw the film. I had some of same reactions that you did. But to say it again, it is work intended to propaganda certain truths. It does not matter that it was sritten before the latest overt attack on the Church; anyone should have seen what this regime was up to the minute then candidate Obama introduced Joe Biden as "a committed Catholic. Mr. Obama would let an actually committed Catholic NEAR his administration. BAck to the film: yes there were moments when I too said "ouch!" and some implausable dialouge or impossible, comabt secnes. But now I'm doing whagt I suggest what you and Romulus might have been unconcicously doing. We have a real situation here in the United States as in the rest of the formerly Christian world. At the risk of sounding alarmist, I really think that the ruling elite would like to apint the Pelosis as the Good Catholics while those who are still in communion with Holy Mother Chruch as understodd by the Pope are disloyal Maericasn who follow and evil foreign leader. Yeah I saw it a highly recommend it.
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written by Brad Miner, June 04, 2012
Mr. Coleman: A Facebook friend reacted to my review by insisting that FGG is "the most heroic movie ever made." I suggested to him that the film itself could only be heroic if the cast and crew had risked life and limb to make it. I don't dispute that it portrays important events that have significance for our time. But I reject entirely the premise that films ought not to be judged as films. -Mr. Miner
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, jr., June 04, 2012
Dr. Miner: Okay, your friend's remark is delicouly silly. I salute you on being honest enough to admit knowoing someone capable of such a thought. It's just the sort of thing I can now laugh myself to sleep on. But before I retire could you tell me if it has any relevance to the point about judging films, which I now genreally concede you are right about, or did you inlcude it because it is just too funny not to share? Heroic film, indeed! And men suffer birth pangs!

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