Thursday, May 31, 2012

Who knew?

'For Greater Glory' With Andy Garcia Breaks Every Rule In Hollywood

Hollywood puts out a lot of rubbish, but now and then something unexpected breaks through. Such as "For Greater Glory," a film that opens Friday and portrays Christianity, of all things, as heroic. Lead actor Andy Garcia talked with IBD about why it's different.

The film was originally called "Cristiada," a Spanish reference to a little-known rebellion in western Mexico from 1926 to 1929, where Christians rose up against a socialist secularist government that tried to stomp out religion in the name of "progress."

After peaceful protests failed, Mexico's "Cristeros" formed an army to fight the government in the name of defending their religious freedom. The three-year war cost 56,000 lives, but in the end, the Cristeros mostly prevailed.

Hollywood wouldn't be expected to touch a topic that put Christians in a heroic role.

But that isn't where the film's uniqueness starts: "Many Mexicans have never heard of the Cristiada," Garcia told IBD. The film was made not by Hollywood producers, he said, but by a Mexican producer who wanted to inform his countrymen about their own invisible past.

"It's a fairly taboo topic in Mexico, where the history has been swept under the rug," Garcia said. "They did it because they believed in it."

As for why they did it now: "These things can't be kept on the back burner any longer."

It was Mexico's close relations with the U.S., Garcia said, that enabled the film to reach U.S. shores as the producers checked out distribution channels, landed a big-name U.S. and Latin American cast, and decided to make the movie because they felt it could succeed. That in turn opened the door for unconventional details rarely seen in U.S. commercial films.

Priests, for instance, aren't shown as Hollywood normally portrays them — as martinets or perverts — but in the way most people know them: with a matter-of-fact ordinariness.

Peter O'Toole portrays a priest whose everyday kindness conceals a saintly willingness to die for his faith — an image that hasn't been seen in Hollywood since the 1940s.

With such characters placed in a sweeping historic drama, "it's like an old classic Hollywood movie, like a 'Lawrence of Arabia' — a historic epic to enlighten," said Garcia. The fact that Garcia even had to bring that up points to the absence of such fare in today's movies.

And that's the tip of the iceberg. In "For Greater Glory," the call goes out for freedom, specifically freedom of religion — an unthinkable idea in highly secular Hollywood.

The Cristeros' determined effort against the state has drawn high interest from U.S. Catholic and Protestant churches, given that 13 Catholic institutions have launched lawsuits against the Obama administration health care mandates that require religious institutions to provide services that go against their teachings.

Does Garcia see parallels between the Cristiada and the U.S. political conflict?

"There are elements of that in it, but there are struggles for religious freedom and absolute freedom all over the world, and for different religions, not just Catholicism," he said.

"In Cuba, there's a struggle for human rights for 50 years," he said, referring to his own experience as a Cuban exile whose family fled the Castro regime for the U.S. when he was a child.

Garcia said the film — and his role as a Cristero army commander who converts to Christianity as a result of his exposure to Christians — was not about politics, but permanent truths he hoped audiences would take with them. "You want your work to have resonance, to provoke thought ... to hold up 20 years down the line."

The actors include both liberals such as Eva Longoria, Ruben Blades and Catalina Sandino Moreno, and conservatives such as Garcia and Eduardo Verastegui. But they worked well together, Garcia said, and put in memorable individual performances.

"We're all just actors, and it's not a political film," said Garcia. In fact, he said, maybe actors should act instead of be activists. "There are just two kinds of film — good and bad."

"You don't have to be Catholic to enjoy the movie," he said. Nor do you have to be Latino or Latin American. The making of a major commercial film about Latin America is a rarity in itself. The industry normally uses the region for U.S. tourist-comedies or niche foreign films.

Garcia, whose 2005 film, "The Lost City," depicts the Cuban-American experience, signals that Latin America is a fertile topic for more films like it.

"The conventional wisdom is that Latin American topics do not carry a large enough demographic to be commercially viable. I disagree with that. I think that sells the audience short.

"I believe you can have a movie like 'Schindler's List' about the Holocaust that appeals to everyone. 'Doctor Zhivago' was appealing because of the nature of the story, not because people experienced the (Russian Revolution). I think that in Latin America we have great stories, too, of classical universal value."

This, too, is different. These days, Hollywood can use the new ideas — and taboo-breaking — so evident in "For Greater Glory."

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