| Religion is the opiate of the masses.—Karl
As with any narcotic, its distribution is a sordid tale indeed.
The story starts simply enough with the newly ordained priest
Father Amaro (Garcia Bernal) arriving in the town of
Los Reyes, Mexico to work under Father Benito (Gracia).
The first person he meets upon arriving is Amelia (Talancon),
who is recently single after breaking up with her journalist
boyfriend Ruben (Montiel). Benito shows Amaro his pet
project, a hospital whose construction is financed by laundered
drug money. Amaro also meets Father Natalio (Alcazar),
another priest in the diocese who is in trouble with the bishop
for harboring guerrillas who fight against the very same drug
dealers with whom Benito has ties.
An anonymous tip to the newspaper reveals all and leads to
scandalous headlines for the church. Ruben wrote the article,
eager to advance his career and punish Amaro who has replaced
him in Amelia’s eyes. The Bishop sends Amaro to speak with
the publisher and, after a few veiled threats, the newspaper’s
spineless editor agrees to retract the article and fire Ruben.
The bishop also feels that Natalio has become too high-profile
and orders him under threat of excommunication to abandon
the peasants he so loves and run a convent. It is here that
Amaro’s fall begins. He knows that the articles are true but
quieting them can lead to quick advancement within the church,
so he trades in his youthful optimism for real politik. The
movie is most compelling during this segment. Everyone—the
bishop, the mayor, the drug dealer, even the citizens of Los
Reyes—stands to benefit from the hospital being completed
and the newspaper keeping quiet. The greater good has been
served even though they are still dealing with the devil.
This is a refreshingly moral gray area of the film before
it descends into the decidedly black.
The second half of the movie deals with the doomed affair
between Amaro and Amelia. Amelia has been actively pursuing
Amaro, leading to some steamy confessions. Amaro eventually
succumbs to his lesser desires and kisses Amelia in church
before the very eyes of God himself. They find a room in some
shack where they can screw like jackrabbits. Before the newspaper
incident Amaro may have abandoned the church for Amelia, but
now having grown comfortable wearing the powerful vestments
of the priesthood, he cannot easily shed them. Amelia is young
and clearly in love, but quickly realizes the carnal nature
of the relationship. This is Catholic Mexico and with the
lack of available contraceptives, their commitment to each
other will be sorely tested. Meanwhile the bishop has grown
tired of Natalio’s insolence and excommunicates him. This
is truly tragic, as Natalio’s only crime was loving his parishioners
and refusing to play church politics.
This is an incendiary movie, touching on nearly everything
questionable within the Catholic Church. Issues like abortion
and celibacy are brought out and given human faces, and while
they are never argued for or against, it is made clear how
the most virtuous people could fall from compassion to compromise
to corruption. Some characters follow the path they chose
seeing it as the best of many bad choices and others are simply
too human to make any other choice. Natalio—the one completely
virtuous character—is excommunicated, a grim example for those
who are unable to compromise at all.
This was a competently done film with several noteworthy
scenes and if the movie was made on a comparatively low budget
it never shows in the final product. One can only assume the
actors are doing a good job, but the movie is in Spanish so
it is difficult to be sure. Gael Garcia Bernal’s Amaro is
excellent. As the movie progresses, the weight of his transgressions
clearly begins to take its toll as he loses confidence in
his moral and spiritual self, all the while garnering influence
within the church.
The first half of El Crimen Del Padre Amaro is an
interesting look at the politics and compromises of a small
town. The second half slows down to deal with the more boilerplate
forbidden love angle. Fortunately they gel quite nicely, proving
no one is above temptation. When the movie finally does end
it feels somewhat unsatisfying, but it does make you think,
which is more than can be said of most movies.
— Woodrow Bogucki