Sunday, April 16, 2023

Mirando al Cielo, More Faith from Fathom

Jose Sanchez del Rio is a saint for all Catholics. He was venerated by Pope John Paul II, beautified by Pope Benedict XVI, and canonized by Francis (presumably with the permission of his master, Xi Jinping). The fourteen-year-old saint would be the first to protest the current Pope’s subservient deal with the CCP, because he was martyred refusing to recant his faith under the Mexican Federales’ torture. Screenwriter-director Antonio Pelaez’s dramatically chronicles the short life and holy passion of Saint Jose in Mirando al Cielo, which has a special one-night screening this Tuesday, via Fathom Events.

Since the not-yet-Saint Jose’s two older brothers joined the Cristero Revolution for religious liberty, against the Calles regime, his parents were reluctant to let their youngest follow their example. However, the just-barely-teenager was determined to defend his faith—and thereby earn his place in heaven. In a twist worthy of classical tragedy, it was his “godfather,” Rafael Picazo Sanchez, the local Federal boss, who will send him there, as we see in flashbacks during corrupt official’s unlikely confession.

None of this is really spoilery, because
Pelaez clearly conceived Mirando al Cielo as a passion play. Different standards of narrative story-telling and characterization will apply, regardless if secular heathens like it or not. Yet, no amount dramatic realism will change the fact Saint Jose was tortured to death by the leftist Calles regime, because of his unwavering Catholic faith.

So, this film is a cinematic passion play, but it is also a high-quality period production. Pelaez and cinematographer Wolf Parra take full advantage of some striking locations and they get the most out of their “heavenly” lighting techniques.
Mirando al Cielo translates to “Looking at Heaven,” which clearly inspired their visual approach.

Luis Xavier also gives a messily complex, fully dimensional performance as Picazo. Unfortunately, Julian Fidalgo does not have that opportunity portraying Saint Jose. In this case, it is definitely more interesting to be sinful than saintly, but Fidalgo still exhibits a strong screen presence, holding up to Pelaez’s relentless focus. Furthermore, even though we know what is coming, the way Estela Cano expresses his mother’s worry and grief still lands like a body-blow.

Saint Jose also appears as a relatively minor character in
For Greater Glory (starring Andy Garcia), which is a far superior work, by traditional cinematic criteria for judgement. He was the standard bearer, just as he is here. Hopefully, Mirando al Cielo inspires increased streaming of Deab Wright’s under-appreciated film. Pelaez is less epic and more sanctified in his approach, but he delivers a timely look at a fascinating historical episode that feels increasingly relevant to our times. Recommended for faith-based audiences and patrons of Mexican cinema, Mirando al Cielo screens this Tuesday (4/18) at participating theaters, including the AMC Empire in New York.