El Crimen del Padre Amaro

(The Crime of Father Amaro)

With the Catholic Church currently mired in controversy, a movie like El Crimen del Padre Amaro is sure to piss people off. The movie deals with corrupt priests in Mexico, in particular the corruption of Father Amaro (Gael Garcia Bernal, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Amores Perros). The irony is that the movie is based on the novel by Eca de Queiros, first published over a century ago. Director Carlos Carrera (Under a Spell, Return to Sender) deftly updates the movie, placing nearly every element believably into current times, however he seems more concerned with stirring controversy than with anything else. The major weakness of El Crimen del Padre Amaro is that it often feels sensationalistic and melodramatic.

Amaro is a fresh priest, sent off to a remote section of Mexico. His ideals are intact, his morals pure, and he is eager to serve any way he can. What he finds shocks him. Padre Benito (Sancho Gracia, Common Wealth, I Won't Let You Down) has a mistress, Sanjuanera (Angelica Aragon, Bloody Proof, Picking Up the Pieces), and there is huge dissension amongst the priests. There are rumors that Benito is corrupt, as well as rumors that Padre Natalio (Damian Alcazar, The Blue Room, Pachito Rex) is working with guerillas. Amaro's temptation comes in the form of Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancon, The Comet, El Juego Sin Reglas), the beautiful young daughter of Sanjuanera. Amaro's lust for Amelia proves too much, and she is too innocent to resist.

This is Bernal's best role to date, because it is not as over-the-top as his other material. It requires more subtlety and restraint, since the Amaro character is internally trying to reconcile his desires with his faith. Still, Vicente Lenero's (The Blue Room, Herod's Law) adaptation movies in the typical manner, adding in an utterly lame plot device that ups the histrionics to a nearly unbearable level. For the first half, El Crimen del Padre Amaro works because it quietly subverts Amaro's beliefs and views, slowly corrupting this pristine person. Changing the tone so drastically ruins much of the effect of this work. Most of the other characters seem straight out of a soap opera, and have little substance to them. Benito and Natalio are not the only priests, but they are the only ones with more than a few lines.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
2 hours, Spanish with English subtitles, Rated R for sexuality, language, and some disturbing images.

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