El Crimen Del Padre Amaro Movie Review

Whether appearing on the front page of the morning paper or being the butt of a Late Night joke, Catholic priests just can't seem to catch a break. These days, knocking the Church is in vogue -- and director Carlos Carrera isn't about to let this opportunity pass him by. Carrera's latest film, El Crimen Del Padre Amaro, so brazenly criticizes the priesthood that it had bishops all over Mexico calling for a boycott. Instead, the film took in more at the box office than any other movie in the country's history.

Now showing to U.S. audiences, Padre Amaro tells the tale of a newly ordained priest who falls from grace with a little help from a rural Mexican community. The handsome Padre, played by Gael García Bernal of Amores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También, begins his stay in Los Reyes as the sort of kind spirit who gives his money to an old man after being robbed on a bus. By the end, though, he's no better -- and perhaps quite a bit worse -- than the corrupt elders who surround him.

Unfortunately, Carrera fails to show this transformation with any sort of consistency or depth. The film isn't sure whether it's a drama or a comedy. And it only takes a few days after Padre Amaro's arrival in town for him to go from being a pious idealist to the bishop's mercenary, demanding that a journalist (Andrés Montiel) be transferred for writing an incriminating article about another priest (Sancho Gracia) -- an article that he knows is completely factual. That he accepts this first task without any soul searching kicks the legs out from under the movie. If the Padre barely had any scruples to begin with, why does it matter that he has none in the end?

Much of the controversy surrounding the film centers on the Padre's decision to abandon his chastity for a pretty young thing (Ana Claudia Talancón). While the 16-year old Amelia supposedly seduces him -- another sign of the town's infectious corruption -- the Padre barely offers any resistance and is, in fact, the one who arranges for the shag shack where they spend their afternoons. He is also the one who suggests Amelia don nothing but the Virgin's satin cloak during one of their "sessions." Strangely, Bernal plays these scenes with little emotion at all, again leaving the viewer without any sign of inner turmoil. This makes it incredibly difficult to care for his character when he ends up having to take Amelia to get an abortion, and having to deal with the aftermath.

But Padre Amaro is not all bad. Gastón Melo plays a tender parishioner caring for a severely handicapped daughter. And the only likeable priest in the film is Padre Natalio (Damián Alcázar), who feels at home in the hills, among farmers and guerillas. But Carrera's response to these men is to drive them out of town. The former is banished and the latter is excommunicated, making for an interesting commentary on the fate of do-gooders. (Of course, this is not all the director's doing; Padre Amaro is an updated version of the 19th century novel by Eça de Queirós.)

Yet, for all the trouble it caused and all the pesos it brought in, Padre Amaro is a surprisingly lacking film. Perhaps if Carrera had dropped some of the comic relief and forced Bernal to adopt an expression (anything at all), it would have amounted to a serious statement about morality and Catholicism. As it is now, though, the Church shouldn't worry itself too much.

Aka The Crime of Father Amaro. In Spanish with English subtitles. The DVD also features a dueling commentary track in Spanish also with English subtitles -- but unfortunately this makes it difficult to follow the movie. Also avoid the English dubbed track, which makes Amaro sound like a street thug.

Father Amaro hears his guilty charge.


El Crimen Del Padre Amaro Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2002


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