At the end of the nineteen-thirties, a small band of men and their Christero coronel refuse to accept amnesty and instead continues their fight against religious persecution and their right to practice their faith. Matias Meyer’s The Last Christeros, tells the valiant story of these soldiers of Christ, the last men standing against the Mexican army, with diminishing food and provisions, as they continue their journey against an arid and forbidding landscape.
In 1926, the Mexican government began the strict enforcement of the anti-clerical laws dictated in the 1917 Mexican Constitution, and introduced an array of new measures against demonstrations of faith. This religious persecution, aimed mostly at Roman Catholics, sparked the Cristero War, a conflict waged mostly by peasants against the well-trained Mexican army. Although the Cristero War officially took place between 1926 and 1929, groups of men continued fighting for their right to worship freely for several years afterward. Matias Meyer’s third feature film, The Last Christeros, retells the story of these tenacious men, resolved to openly uphold their beliefs, even in the face of certain death.
It’s the end of the 1930s. A Cristero colonel and his small company of guerrillas continue their resistance, marching across arid mountains with little shelter from the elements. The men push forward with their mission, refusing to surrender even when they are offered government amnesty. Meyer provides glimpses into their inner fears and trepidations, conveyed in close-ups strikingly juxtaposed with long shots in which figures blend into the forbidding landscape. As the peasants’ supply of ammunition and provisions dwindles, their situation becomes more perilous and loneliness threatens their fortitude. They break the nighttime silence with songs of longing, commitment and faith.
Meyer offers an alternative to the western genre, portraying the realities of the revolt with utmost historical accuracy. Gunfire is sparse and bullets rarely hit their marks. War is mostly a long, continuous walk through difficult terrain that ends huddled under a poncho and sombrero at night. His use of non-professional actors, some of them descendants of real Cristeros, adds authenticity to the piece. The Last Christeros features stunning photography of the men and their surroundings; without being dogmatic, Meyer crafts an emotionally evocative homage to Mexico’s defenders of religious freedom. –TIFF
Plus: José Luis Torres Leiva’s leader for the Hubert Bals Fund, Copia imperfecta an homage to Raúl Ruiz.