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The Crime Of Father Amaro (R)
El Crimen del Padre Amaro
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Official Site
Director: Carlos Carrera
Producers: Daniel Birman Ripstein, Alfredo Ripstein
Written by:Vicente Leñero; from the novel by Eca de Queiros
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Sancho Gracia, Ana Claudia Talancon, Andres Montiel, Damian Alcazar

Rating: out of 5

Religion is the opiate of the masses.—Karl Marx

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


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