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Film tells little-known story of Cristeros

By Sister Helena Burns FSP | Contributor
Sunday, May 20, 2012

For Greater Glory” is the untold story of Mexico’s Cristeros War (or “Cristiada”), which took place 1926- 1929, between the government and Catholics (the actual involvement of the Mexican clergy, hierarchy and Rome is a little murky). The events are historically accurate, and certain characters are real personalities from the struggle.

Most Americans have never heard of the Cristeros War, and, it seems, just as many Mexicans are ignorant of it. Why? Understandably, it makes President Calles and the Mexican establishment look bad, so it’s not in the history textbooks. His brutal enforcement of anti-clerical laws, expelling foreign clergy, forbidding Catholic Masses and sacraments, as well as the outright slaughter of many priests was extreme repression and a complete denial of religious freedom.

Calles thought the Catholics would bow to such pressure. No such thing. The “Cristeros” took up arms and fought back — clergy among them. “Viva Cristo Rey!” was the rallying cry of the resisters, fighters and all faithful Catholics. Calles set up a schismatic “patriotic church” much like the communists in China today.

The film starts off with a light, “It can’t happen here,” “It won’t be that bad,” blasé attitude and quickly deteriorates into something much more serious. This early progression of events is done well: swift and devastating. Then the 137-minute film drags on a bit. It begins as a kind of ensemble piece but gradually becomes Cristero General Velarde’s (Andy Garcia) story.

This epic’s set direction and costuming is pitch-perfect, but the cinematography — although extremely lush — is somewhat distracting and halting with far too much hand-held in all the wrong places. At times, poor direction and editing can make the fine cast look bad .

What “For Greater Glory” lacks in cinematic prowess, it makes up in ambition to tackle a crucial and timely subject. The film was not timed to coincide with the present religious freedom challenges in this country. It was made a few years ago and got held up.

Like “October Baby,” which had its own filmmaking issues, “For Greater Glory,” succeeds on certain levels and is firmly in the must-see category. Viva Cristo Rey!