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Arriving in Mexico’s provincial Los Reyes, the ambitious young Padre Amaro (García Bernal) meets Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón), a beautiful 16-year-old girl whose religious devotion soon becomes helplessly entangled in a growing attraction to the new priest. She ditches her junior journalist boyfriend (Andres Montiel), who is sent to cover an explosive story that implicates some in the church with the local head of organised crime. Torn between the divine and the carnal, the righteous and the unjust, Padre Amaro must summon the strength to choose which life he will lead. 

Review by Louise Keller:
A tale about hypocrisy, lust and guilt, The Crime of Padre Amaro is a juicy melodrama filled with controversial ingredients about the church. Based on a novel written in the late 19th century, the story follows the path of a novice priest who begins his life in his new parish with great faith and honourable intentions. Placed under the care of Padre Benito, he quickly learns that not only is Benito having an affair with the local restaurant owner, but raises plenty of money for the church through his association with shady drug dealers. To make matters worse, it seems that his colleague Padre Natalio supports the guerrilla movement against these drug lords. 

We quickly get a sense of the parish and its parishioners: the nimble fingers that drop a coin into the confession tray and remove a bank note; the old woman who takes confessional wafers to feed her cats; the mayor’s wife who brings gifts of laundered money to extol her virtues after confession and the beautiful young girl who fantasies about Jesus as she caresses herself. 

There is indeed a very different life going on beneath the surface of piety, propriety and godliness. The accent, though, is on the development of the relationship between Amaro and Amelia. Deceptions are at their height when Amaro tells the father of a disabled woman of his need to use his back bedroom to instruct the very beautiful Amelia in her vocation to become a nun. There are passionate scenes of bodies draped in Mary Mother of God’s silky, extravagant cape and moans of pleasure are stifled for fear of being overheard. Gael García Bernal, whose performance in Y Tu Mama Tambien elevated him to sex-symbol status in his home country of Mexico, is appealing as the young, ambitious and horny priest grappling with the moral issues of his vocation, while Ana Claudia Talancón is breathtaking as the passionate innocent who never questions any actions taken in the name of the Lord. 

Everyone is well cast, especially the character actors whose faces haunt us. It’s mostly an engaging story, although I do wonder which is the crime of the title? Is it Amaro’s indiscretion with Amelia? Or is it his reaction to the events that transpire? Or is it the ease with which he later resumes his role in the church, as though nothing had happened? Irrespective of the answer, the film is sure to prompt more hot debate from the Catholic Church, which recently was up in arms about the equally contentious allegations raised in The Magdalene Sisters. 

I was looking forward to watching the making of feature – until I heard the breathy Hollywood voice narrator reading a simply awful script. You know that contrived voice-over that we so often hear in the trailers, saying things like “In the leading role is one of the most exciting actors in the world today… already a 10-screen veteran at the age of 24, he has rocketed to international stardom… and has become an icon of the new world of Mexican film…” Unless you are willing to find out about the making of the film at any cost, avoid this feature. 

Thank goodness for the audio commentary with Carlos Carrera and Gael García Bernal, who chat about every intricate detail encountered in the making of the film. Bernal introduces himself, saying he is ‘at hand to cheer on Carlos’ comments and the film.’ In order to be able to follow the audio commentary, English-speaking viewers should first go to the audio set up, followed by the subtitle set up, and select the English option. Interestingly enough, Carrera talks about the fact that one of the things that he really likes about the movie is that none of the characters are like the actors who portray them. There’s plenty to hear and learn, and even if you don’t understand the Spanish of the commentary, it is such a beautiful language to hear in the background as we concentrate on what they are saying by reading the subtitles.

Published November 13, 2003

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(Mexico / Spain / Argentina / France)

El Crimen Del Padre Amaro

CAST: Gael García Bernal, Sancho Gracia, Ana Claudia Talancón, Damián Alcázar, Angélica Aragón, Luisa Huertas, Ernesto Gómez Cruz, Gastón Melo, Andrés Montiel

DIRECTOR: Carlos Carrera

SCRIPT: Vicente Leñero (novel by Eça de Queirós)


RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16 : 9 widescreen

SPECIAL FEATURES: director and actor audio commentary; poster explorations; filmographies; making of feature; trailers;

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: November 12, 2003

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