The Crime of Padre Amaro
(El Crimen del Padre Amaro)



Gael Garcia Bernal

The Crime of Padre Amaro (El Crimen del Padre Amaro)
Made in: Mexico
Language: Spanish
Director: Carlos Carrera
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Ana Claudia Talancón, Sancho Gracia, Angélica Aragón, Luisa Huertas, Ernesto Gómez Cruz, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Gastón Melo, Andrés Montiel, Damián Alcázar
Year: 2002

Based on the novel by Eça de Queirós

Synopsis: A young, recently ordained priest named Amaro (Gael García Bernal) is sent to a small village in Los Reyes, Mexico to help run the church there. Ordered to assist the church's head priest, Benito (Sancho Gracia), the ambitious but kind-hearted Padre Amaro soon encounters a series of escalating conundrums.

First he discovers that Padre Benito is having a secret affair with Augustina (Angélica Aragón), the local restaurant owner. And if that wasn't enough, Padre Amaro learns that Benito's grand plan to build a state-of-the-art hospital for the poor is secretly being financed by local drug lords while the city's mayor (Pedro Armendáriz) and bishop (Ernesto Gómez Cruz) give tacit approval.

And amidst all this, one of their closest colleagues, Padre Natalio (Damián Alcázar) faces excommunication for being accused of collaborating with guerillas while doing missionary work somewhere out in the woods.

But Padre Amaro gets himself into a mess of his own when Augustina's beautiful and pious teenage daughter, Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón), falls in love with him. Succumbing to temptation, Amaro finds himself struggling to uphold his oath to the priesthood while carrying on a hot and heavy affair with the girl.

Who said going to church was boring?



Remarks: Highly acclaimed and just as controversial, this foreign film was a huge hit in Mexico. And why not? It's yet another high profile example of Catholic-bashing disguised as art!

Okay, I'm not here to rant about the war for/against religion- that's for a different article.

So to be fair...

Based on its merits as a story, The Crime of Padre Amaro is certainly compelling and well-made. Director Carlos Carrera skillfully creates a "what-if" scenario that weaves politics, religion, corruption, and the dangers of moral fanaticism into a sobering tale of human weakness and tragedy. I must say that the end result is a believable-looking film, and the young Gael García Bernal gives a brilliant performance.

The exploration of human failings is valid, in that piety and morality without humility is a dangerous sin like any other. However, I'd be naive to think that there isn't an element of anti-Christian sentiment going on here, and that's where watching this foreign film gets a little complicated.

The Crime of Padre Amaro is an adaptation of a Portuguese novel written in the 1800s by Eça de Queirós. During that time, the Catholic Church was a worldwide political force, and prominent authors (from both Portugal and Spain) wrote influential pieces of literature rightfully criticizing the church's mainly unchecked power.

Although de Queirós' novel has been updated to take place in the 21st Century, an age where the Church is no longer recognized as the political institution it once was, many of those 19th century sentiments have carried over and give the film a dated feel.

I'm not saying that the Catholic Church, or any institution managed by imperfect people, is above criticism. After all, even in the modern era, scandal and corruption has occurred in the church (and the media gleefully reminds us of that).

However, I do find it problematic when, especially in the realm of cinema, Catholics consistently take a bigger beating than the Miami Dolphins in 2007. And I do find it more than a bit odd when controversial films with anti-religious themes are lauded as "provocative" and "worthy of discussion" while an overtly pro-Christian film such as Passion of the Christ is heavily demonized before it's even released.

I know I mentioned earlier that I wouldn't turn this piece into a rant, but with a film such as this, I realize it's difficult not address the subject matter in a neutral, objective fashion. And having spent so much time in artistic fields, I pretty much know how most filmmakers feel about religion.

Let's just say most of them are likely to sleep in on Sundays.

All in all, The Crime of Padre Amaro is a very engaging story, and as a film, I must say that, yes, it is very solid. It's very powerful, and you'll feel an emotional bond with the characters. And although it may be, in parts, accurate in pointing out corruption, hypocrisy, and human weaknesses within some of the most trusted elements in our communities, Carrera's film seems to box all Catholics in general into this unfriendly corner. As a non-Catholic, even I think that's a little unfair.

Who would like this movie: If you aren't particularly religious, you shouldn't have a problem with this movie. If you are (especially if you're Catholic), you'll find plenty to be offended about even though the film does point out a number of human failings that all people, believers and non-believers alike, should be mindful of.

Review written by: Joe Yang

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