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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 Andrew L. Urban:
Based on the novel written in 1875, The Crime of Padre Amaro (the official, half-breed title under which the film is released in Australia) has gained a certain celebrity through its controversial depiction of fornicating and otherwise corrupt priests. While the subject matter is still sensitive, it’s especially explosive in its home country of Mexico, where religious fervour has maintained deep roots, and society is less laissez faire than in Australia. The 1875 setting would have been even more outrageous, but the filmmakers have set the action in contemporary Mexico. But perhaps it’s more than that; recent ructions in the organised religions that have revealed widespread sexual abuse by priests and other officials, has probably desensitised us to some extent. All this means that the film’s punch is lessened, as if we were witnessing yet another exposé in the media. Director Carlos Carrera treats his subject with gravitas and avoids fancy filmwork, presenting the story in well crafted cinematic fashion. His cast is excellent, and the film’s other great strength is its ability to evoke Los Reyes, complete with its principal characters. I’m a little baffled, though, by Luisa Huertas’ Donisia, a character who plays a minor and confusing role from beginning to end. Indeed, the film doesn’t tell us what Donisia does after the fateful ending – and she is privy to the Big Bad Secret. But the other characters are well presented and the moral/ ethical issues that are woven through the story serve to make it a meatier matter. 

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.

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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

PRODUCER: Daniel Birman Ripstein, Alfredo Ripstein

DIRECTOR: Carlos Carrera

SCRIPT: Vicente Leñero (novel by Eça de Queirós)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Guillermo Granillo

EDITOR: Óscar Figueroa

MUSIC: Rosino Serrano

PRODUCTION DESIGN: (Art Direction) Carmen Giménez Cacho

OTHER: Language: Spanish

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane: May 22, 2003; Adelaide: May 29, 2003; Perth: June 5, 2003

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