El Crimen del Padre Amaro
2002, R, 118 min. Directed by Carlos Carrera. Starring Gael García Bernal, Sancho Gracia, Ana Claudia Talancón, Angélica Aragón, Ernesto Gómez Cruz.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 22, 2002
The latest Mexican movie to win an international reputation and cause controversy back home is El Crimen del Padre Amaro. Although it has been publicly condemned (but not banned) by the Catholic Church, the movie has become Mexico's highest-grossing domestic movie ever. The movie is less likely to duplicate that success in this country, despite its release during our year of public shame among the Catholic priesthood. A hetero relationship with a 16-year-old girl? That's hardly shocking news this side of the border. Father Amaro's involvement with the disposition of a problem pregnancy may be more troublesome to the devout, but again, certainly not a criminal deed in these parts (at least for the present). Encased in telenovela-style melodrama, El Crimen del Padre Amaro seems to expand scenes to their greatest possible lengths and dallies in numerous tangential side stories that provide colorful illumination but few resolutions. As played by handsome Gael García Bernal (one of the adventuresome male stars of Y Tu Mamá También), Padre Amaro is a young priest who seems to understand the double meaning of the “body of Christ” as he doles out the communion wafers. Sent to a remote town where he is next in line to take over the parish, Father Amaro becomes entranced by the 16-year-old Amelia (Talancon), who teaches catechism and has recently dumped her atheist news-reporter boyfriend. They make love in secret, witnessed only by Our Lady of Guadalupe and a demented cripple. But when the inevitable consequences occur, Father Amaro prizes his position in the Church over his love for Amelia, and finds for her and finances an illegal abortion. The film raises several questions about relative and situational morality, showing Father Amaro's deeds in light of the Church's acceptance of drug money from area criminals and probing the Church's edicts about celibacy. But, at two hours, the movie goes on too long and resolves too little -- even though it provides some interesting moments along the way.