Based On A True Story, “Perfect Obedience” Is A Cautionary Tale About The Dangers Of Unquestioned Authority
January 27, 2017 — Perfect Obedience, written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Luis Urquiza, managed to shock Mexican audiences even though most of them had undoubtedly heard the story on which it is based — that of priest Marcial Maciel.
Maciel was a revered member of the clergy; he had raised huge amounts of money for the Church, started the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movements. He would accompany the Pope, John Paul II, whenever the pontiff came to Mexico. He was renowned for his abilities to recruit new seminarians.
However, in 1997, a number of men claimed that they had been abused by the priest during the 1940s and 1950s. Formal charges were raised, but the men were informed that the investigation had been shelved on orders from the Pope.
Less than one year after the Pope’s death, the investigation was resumed and it came out that the priest had been sexually abusing boys for decades. He had had at least three children with two different women, he had plagiarized one of his most revered writings and his drug use was notorious. He was accused of “reprehensible and objectively immoral behavior” and was removed from his position in 2006.
This is the background for the story of Perfect Obedience. The title refers to one of the precepts taught by the seminarians of the Legion of Christ, the order Maciel had started — never question or criticize anything a superior does. This tenet was one reason that Maciel was able to behave as he did for so long. That precept was changed after the investigation.
Urquiza, in discussing the film, brought up the recently canonized Pope John Paul II, saying “For me, the Pope is obviously guilty. He is guilty, he is associated, he is an accomplice. When there is a genocide and there is a general who is responsible, if the soldiers do something, the general is called and he is judged. Here, Pope John Paul II has not been judged but we already know that this is what the Church does, the Catholic Church as an institution – because there are also exemplary priests.”
His film shows a priest similar to Maciel, but through the eyes of a young seminarian, chosen because of his angelic good looks, to be an intimate of the presiding priest.
Juan Manuel Bernal, who plays Padre Ángel de la Cruz, the character based on Maciel, said of the film, “I don’t think that we are looking for scandal or ridicule. We are simply trying to tell a story, to go deep into the subconscious mind of this character, which I think could be interesting for the spectator. Because effectively, we believe that all the world knows the story and most likely somebody read an account of it but has forgotten it. But the awful thing is that it keeps on happening and because of this, I think the film is important.”
The film won two Ariel Awards in Mexico (Best Actor, Juan Manuel Bernal; Best Adapted Screenplay, Ernesto Alcocer, Luis Urquiza) and two at the Montréal World Film Festival (Grand Prix des Amériques; Glauber Rocha Award, Best Latin American Film).
Perfect Obedience is available on Blu-ray and DOD, or you can stream it immediately on Amazon Video.