Recently I dug up an old correspondence I had with a relative where I lambasted a film that many Catholics have seen taken up as a great movie. With a few miniscule edits, this was what I said of the film.
When I walked out of the theater a couple of years ago after watching the movie about the Cristeros, I had a feeling not unlike one would have after a relatively decent Pauline mass. While the content present was all well and good, there was an incompleteness and a sense of glaring omission. It was as if the filmmakers had cherry-picked the parts they wanted to keep and arranged them to tell the story they wished to tell. I did not have a litany of errors to point out, I just had a feeling something was very wrong. I have since given it more thought and have refined my issues with it.
In contrast to myriad other “historical” films, this one did not necessarily present anything that was erroneous, incorrect, or an outright lie. Rather, it took true events and then cut and pasted them together so the audience would come to the conclusion the filmmakers wanted. The parts they removed (as in the part of the Vatican diplomats selling out the heroic fighters) or skimmed over would have destroyed the interpretation of events the writers wished to portray.
In essence, the movie is an utter whitewashing of the rebellion that portrays the rebellion as a lost cause from the beginning (despite the fact that the Cristeros were on the verge of victory when they were ordered to lay down their arms) and chalks up the defeat and death of the leaders as a result of them “running out of steam”, rather than it resulting from mass desertions caused by direct orders from the bishops who signed an agreement with the “moderate” replacement of Calles, President Portes Gil (notably absent from the movie). The ending where “the churches were open and everbody was happy and the sacrifice of the good guys was a victory… Yay!” was the one part of the movie I noticed was wrong from the first viewing, as I am well aware that Portes Gil had the former Cristeros hunted and killed for years after the agreement was signed (can’t have a downer ending now, can we?). Also, and I need to stress this:
The Government NEVER closed the churches. The peace treaty changed absolutely nothing, except disarming the forces that were in very real danger of overthrowing the Calles/Gil governments.
There are numerous other omissions that would have fundamentally changed the narrative, but they are too many to list here. Maybe I’ll give an analysis of the movie at some point, but that would take a lot of writing. So, i won’t give one yet but maybe later. Suffice to say that in addition to the misleading sequence of events portrayed, there is also some incompetence present in the writing (two or three movies feel like they were cut and meshed into one) and an over-reliance on sentimentality to distract the viewers.
There are some things that would have been inconvenient to add (because most Catholics, especially Americans or Ultramontanists, probably wouldn’t have wanted to hear of it). It was far more convenient instead to put all the blame on good old ‘Murica. While the US certainly played a part in the tragedy, they were far from the only political force working against the Cristeros. This aspect was probably well received by the classic “social justice through equality and liberation” (as opposed to the Christ-like common sense social justice put forth by Fathers like St. Basil the Great) neo-hippy Catholics though.
I also think that many “trad” Catholics on the other end of the spectrum would have been uncomfortable with: the fact that a “golden age” Pope was fooled, his secretary – Cardinal Gasparri – played him for a fool, the Mexican bishops sold out the faithful (the hireling abandoning the sheep comes to mind), the American bishops absolutely refused to help their brothers south of the border, and that a simple act of disobedience would have won the war. Considering the ultramontanist stance of the party line that seems to hold obedience to the Rome as the highest virtue, challenging it would have probably not gone over too well. (At least the SSPX realized long ago that blind obedience to the almighty Vatican should not take precedence over what is morally right. However, I still find them very confused as to what they think is morally right, orthodox, and traditional.)
In the end, though, the truth is above right or left as these alignments are artificial simplistic inventions of men. The truth simply is. The truth was not present in this movie.