(El Crimen del Padre Amaro)

Directed by Carlos Carrera. Mexico/Argentina/France/Spain. 2002.

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Based on an 1875 Portuguese novel by Eca de Quieros, (The Crime of Father Amaro), the new film from director Carlos Carrera, has been updated to modern Mexico. As it opens, Father Amaro (Gael García Bernal) comes to Las Reyes for his first assignment. He starts out as an idealist, showing kindness to a fellow bus passenger whose money is stolen during a hold-up, but when he arrives at the parish, he quickly caves in to the established order. 

Father Benito (Sancho Gracia) is his superior, and his main project is the building of a hospital, orphanage, and rest home. It is soon learned that Benito is having an affair with a local café proprietor Sanjuanera (Angélica Aragón) and has taken money from the area's major drug lord to finance the hospital. Benito is also a vocal opponent of the "good" priest, Father Natalio (Damían Alcázar) whose support of the peasants and their guerilla revolution stirs resentment from the church hierarchy.

When a reporter for the local paper is given photographs of Father Benito at a baptism with the drug kingpin, he writes an article alleging that the hospital is a front for laundering drug money. The bishop urges Father Amaro to write a rebuttal (i.e., a cover-up) in the paper saying that the funds came only from the church. Amaro then has an affair with the reporter's ex-girlfriend, Sanjuanera's young daughter Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón), and in an awkward scene, the priest drapes her in a blue robe that has been designed for the local church's statue of the Virgin Mary. "You're more beautiful than the blessed virgin," he tells her. The result of this liaison is a scandal that rocks the church. 

The Catholic Church has called for a boycott of The Crime of Father Amaro on religious grounds. Personally, I'm more concerned with its artistic transgressions. The film provides little insight into the conflicting pressures that priests face in today's world, and the characters are shallow and uninteresting. Given recent headlines about sexual abuse, this issue could have been the focus for an important film, but Carrera hits us over the head with his message so often that the film ends up as manipulative melodrama, light years away from the subtle ironic thrusts of a Buñuelian sword.

Howard Schumann
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