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El Crimen Del Padre Amaro

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: El Crimen Del Padre Amaro

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Ana Claudia Talancon
Director: Carlos Carrera
Rated: R
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: November 2002
Genres: Drama, Foreign

*Also starring: Sancho Gracia, Angelica Aragon, Luisa Huertas, Ernesto Gomez Cruz, Damian Alcazar, Andres Montiel, Juan Ignacio Aranda

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

What's a poor, hormone-driven 16-year-old girl gonna do when she meets the drop-dead handsome priest, newly assigned to her parish in a town on the outskirts of Mexico City? If drop-dead fits into your answer, you would not be incorrect. Carlos Carrera's strongly anti-clerical film based on an 1875 Portuguese novel of Maria Eca de Queiroz is yet another contribution to the almost annual church-bashing fete which this year includes Costa-Gavras boldly assertive "Amen" (about the refusal of the pope to speak out against the Holocaust).

The misdeeds of the church officials in the town of Los Reyes are in no way comparable to the World War 2 failings of the church father, but considering the extent of the corruption, one which pervades a large proportion of the town's priests including the obese bishop, Carrera's indictment is a powerful one.

The title character is Father Amaro (Gael Garcia Bernal), a 24- year-old idealist who along with his fellow bus passengers is robbed by a gang of gun-toting highwaymen and who on disembarking promptly gives his elderly seat mate some money to start his business. Father Amaro will prove to me no tragic hero but a young innocent, believing himself to be in position to take over the small but well-endowed parish upon the coming retirement of Father Benito (Sancho Gracia)-provided that he does his job and is recommended by Benito to the bishop (Ernesto Gomez Cruz). Amaro is astonished to find that the church bureaucracy is in the pocket of drug lords who donate money to the church, pesos which are freely accepted on the grounds that there's nothing wrong with putting "bad money into good deeds."

That's the least of Amaro's difficulties. When the town guapa, 16-year-old old Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancon), makes goo-goo eyes, Amaro's lust gets the better of him, and why not? The guy he is scheduled to replace, Father Benito, has been enjoying a long-term affair with Amelia's mom, Sanjuanera (Angelica Aragon), but informs his protege that his sexual relationship is "not the same thing" as the young man's.

"El Crimen del Padre Amaro" shows the clerics violating the letter and spirit of the Ten Commandments by fornicating, consorting with thieves, and threatening excommunication against the likes of a "liberation" priest who caters to a communal group called "guerrillas" by the bureacrats. When Amelia's disappointed boyfriend Ruben exposes the money laundering, Father Amaro carries a message from the bishop threatening to call a boycott of the newspaper's sponsors unless they put a false, large-print retraction of the charges on the front page.

"El Crimen del Padre Amaro" is now Mexico's biggest box-office hit of movies turned out by the homegrown industry, following on the heels of its principal actor's two other stunners, the violent "Amores Perros" and the erotic "Y Tu Mama Tambien." We suspect that the satiric element is not the principal reason for the popularity, but rather the wallowing in sex that actually undercuts the parody in the service of big box office. Though the eroticism is hardly as kinky as that featured in, say, "Femme fatale," it serves to bring in the crowds, and Carrera satisfies his audience all around with a conclusion that one-ups even Moliere's anticlerical play "Tartuffe." If you want to find morally bankrupt people, you'll find them, of course, among the drug lords and criminals. To witness deeds of immorality pervasive in the very group that we trust to raise us spiritually is the movie's edge, and Carrera finds his truth dramatically and credibly with the help of a crackerjack team of performers.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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