Andy Garcia in For Greater Glory
decades of seeing their Church maligned in cinema, Catholic moviegoers have
enjoyed a smattering of pro-Catholic movies in recent years. The latest of
these, For Greater Glory
Garcia, will be released in the United States on June 1. The movie tells
the story of the Cristero War in Mexico (1926-29), a peasant uprising against
the stridently anti-Catholic policies of the Mexican government under President
Plutarco Elias Calles. Garcia portrays General Enrique Gorostieta, a
retired federal general hired by the Cristeros to be their leader.
a fascinating story, and one I previously didn’t know anything about,” Garcia
said about the Cristero uprising.
war erupted in 1926, after Calles implemented the “Law for Reforming the Penal
Code” or “Calles’ Law,” which severely restricted the free practice of religion
in Mexico. Among other regulations, the law levied a 500-peso fine (nearly
$5,000 in the U.S. today) on priests or religious wearing clerical garb in
public, and clerics who spoke out against the government could be jailed for
Mexican bishops suspended public religious services in response to the law, and
supported an economic boycott against the government. Violence soon
erupted, as bands of Catholic peasants battled federal forces. Priests
were shot and hung, Church property seized, and many religious institutions
closed. Ninety thousand would die over the next three years. The
Cristeros’ battle cry was, “Viva Cristo
Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”).
For Greater Glory was filmed in seven
different states in Mexico, with a Mexican crew and an international
cast. It had a budget of $11 millionmodest by Hollywood standards, but a
significant sum in Mexican filmmakingand was a hit when it was released with
Spanish subtitles in Mexico, Garcia said.
was raised Catholic, but is circumspect about sharing his religious beliefs
today. For him, the movie is about “a loss of freedom,” something he
experienced in his own life. Born in Havana, Cuba in 1956, Garcia fled to
Miami with his family when the Castro regime came to power.
cause was the same as the Cristeros’,” Garcia said. “We saw our freedoms
the movie, Garcia’s character has left the military and operates a soap-making
factory. He watches with disapproval as Calles, ably portrayed by Ruben
Blades, cracks down on the Church. Unlike his wife, played by Eva
Longoria, Gorostieta is not an active Catholic, but does believe men should be
free to practice their religion of choice. The Cristeros come to him to
ask him to be their leader, and the promise of money and glory persuade
Gorostieta to accept.
challenge is to unite the various factions of the Cristeros. These include ones
led by Father Reyes Vega, played by Santiago Cabrera, and Victoriano “El
Catorce” Ramirez, played by Oscar Isaacs. The real-life El Catorce earned his nickname after an
escape from prison; he is said to have single-handedly killed the 14-member
posse sent to apprehend him.
Gorostieta takes command and trains the rebels, he begins to admire their faith
and devotion to their cause. Chief among those who capture his affection
is 13-year-old José Luis SÁnchez del Rio, who would be declared a martyr and beatified
by Pope Benedict in 2005. José is portrayed by Mauricio Kuri, a
14-year-old actor performing in his second movie.
film portrays SÁnchez del Rio’s capture by government forces during a battle
with the Cristeros. He was tortured in an attempt to get him to renounce
his faith. The torture included cutting off the soles of his feet and forcing
him to walk down cobblestone streets, and watching the hanging of another
teenage Cristero. His captors promised to release SÁnchez del Rio if he
shouted “Death to Christ the King,” but he refused to do so. Enraged
soldiers bayoneted and shot him; as the boy lay dying he made a cross in the
dirt with his blood. Sahuayo,
José’s hometown, is a popular site of pilgrimage for Mexican Catholics today.
wears a medal of SÁnchez del Rio around his neck, and said, “The world needs to
know about him.”
in the film, Kuri’s character develops a close bond with Father Christopher, a
loveable, elderly priest portrayed by Peter O’Toole. A mischievous José first
pelts the elderly cleric with fruit, and is made to work for the priest as a
punishment. The boy quickly comes to love the old man and his Faith. When
the government begins its crackdown on the Church, José begs Father Christopher
to go into hiding. The priest refuses to leave his flock, and calmly walks
out to face the wrath of the federales. A
tearful José watches it all.
O’Toole is no stranger to the Catholic faith, having once served as an altar
boy. O’Toole, in fact, suggested to director Dean Wright that he include in
the movie a scene in which Father Christopher teaches José how to serve
Mass. O’Toole also advised Wright that when the soldiers take Father
Christopher prisoner, that they should “grab his arm, but gently and with respect
and honor,” as the priest would be willing to offer himself as a martyr.
with the killing of José, Father Christopher’s abduction by the federales is the biggest tear-jerker in
the movie. “When we filmed the scene where José tells Father Christopher
the soldiers are coming for him, all of us in the film crew were crying,”
has worked in visual effects on big-budget Hollywood films such as Titanic, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. He was also an executive in
charge of special effects for Disney. While working on the third Lord of the Rings film, The Return of the King, he had the
opportunity to do second unit directing (without principal actors). For Greater Glory is Wright’s debut as
grew up in Arizona, and spent much of his life in Southern California, but,
like many involved with the project, had never heard of the Cristero
rebellion. “When I read the original draft, I was stunned,” he recalled. “I
thought Mexico was a devout Catholic country; I couldn’t imagine that there was
a time when the Church was outlawed.”
preparation for shooting For Greater
Glory, Wright traveled extensively in Mexico, visiting the sites where the
Cristero rebellion occurred and “connecting with the country and people.” He
met with descendants of the Cristeros, and visited small shrines to priests who
refused to leave their flocks and were hung or shot by the federales. Most of the scenes were shot where the events
noted that many of the stories he heard of the rebellion were actually much
worse than what is portrayed in film. In one story he heard, for example,
the federales were chasing Cristero
sympathizers, and some villagers sealed them inside a wall to hide them from
the government forces. The federales
came, could not find the rebels, but shot the villagers instead. Those
sealed inside the wall could not escape, and died an agonizing death. This
and other gruesome stories did not make it into the film, Wright said, “because
while we tried to present the facts as they were, we didn’t want to overwhelm
met with descendants of General Gorostieta, who shared with him personal
letters the general had written. He recalled, “They wanted me to know he
loved his wife.”
also had ample technical advice on correct portrayals of the Catholic faith,
including priests on the set, and was meticulous about making the film
historically accurate. In the closing credits of the film, historical photos of
the rebellion are interspersed to remind viewers that the events were not
fiction. “At the end, I don’t want the audience to applaud,” Wright said. “I
want them to contemplate: this actually happened.”
does not stress the film’s religious references, but doesn’t deny they’re
there. Father Christopher’s arrest is shot from above, for example, a
“God’s-eye view.” A bloodied José walks to his execution in a manner reminiscent
of the Way of the Cross; a dead José is cradled in the arms of his mother,
evoking the PietÀ, and with his arms out-stretched like Christ on the cross.
wanted to tell the story in an entertaining way, and not with an ‘in your face’
theme,” said Wright. “You can ruin a story if you’re too preachy.”
of the film, he said, include kindness, forgiveness, and faith. Father
Christopher, for example, shows kindness to José after the boy plays a prank on
him. That kindness, in turn, helps foster goodness in José, which he
transmits to others.
noted that “protection from above” aided the production of the film, helping
him finish on-time and on-budget. Shooting in remote areas of Mexico was
difficult, and the weather was unpredictable. The day after they completed
filming the scenes at the rebel camp in the mountains, for example, a hurricane
swept through the region.
film has been well-received in Mexico, Wright said, but has had its critics.
“One reviewer said we were ‘glorifying Catholic terrorists,’” he said. “That’s
the first time I’ve ever heard that pairing of words.”
says he is open to future film projects with similar subjects. He noted,
“Many people have suggested I do a film on the Spanish Civil War
[1936-39]. It’s similar to the Cristeros rebellion in Mexico. It
happened, but no one wants to talk about it.”
practicing Catholic featured in For
Greater Glory is Eduardo VerÁstegui, who plays Anacleto Gonzalez Flores, a
martyr in the war who resisted the government but refused to take up
arms. Flores was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.
been born in Mexico and attending public schools there, VerÁstegui was
embarrassed by his ignorance of the Cristero War, and began to read about it.
He became passionate about sharing the story of “this dark period in Mexican
not taught in schools because it was an embarrassment for the government,” he
said. “But we shouldn’t bury it in a hole. By exposing this wound,
we can heal it.”
star of the pro-life, pro-family film Bella
began his acting career as a nominal Catholic, but had a conversion experience
at age 28. He resolved that he would not take any roles at odds with his
newly discovered faith, nor ones that portrayed Latinos in a negative
light. Playing Flores was a perfect fit.
was a peacemaker, a Mexican Gandhi,” VerÁstegui said. “He
fought for his faith, using peaceful means. Playing him made me ask
myself, ‘Are you willing to die for your faith?’”
experience also showed him the ugliness of which human beings are
capable. “If we don’t have God at the center of our lives, we can be
monsters,” he said.
For Greater Glory
is a fine film, shot in beautiful locations, with some great lines (General
Gorostieta: “Men fire bullets, but God decides where they will land”). With
a large cast of characters and multiple storylines, it may be difficult for
some to follow, but this can serve as a justification to view the film several
times. The film is not suitable for young children, due to its violence
and bloody martyrdom of José (the film has an R rating for war violence
and some disturbing images).
In an era where religious people are often
portrayed as hypocritical at best, evil at worst, this film offers a positive
portrayal of the Catholic Church, its clergy and laity, in the most adverse of