Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
HAVING appeared as a lusty teen who finds sexual enlightenment
from an older woman in last year's excellent Y
Tu Mamá También, Mexican actor, Gael García
Bernal, now dons the priest's robes for an equally controversial
tale of forbidden love and church corruption in The Crime of Father
Amaro (or El Crimen del Padre Amaro).
Nominated for best foreign language film at this year's Oscars,
the movie was a huge hit in its home country, despite provoking
the wrath of the Catholic church, which threatened to ex-communicate
its stars over its perceived anti-clericalism.
Yet there is no getting away from the fact that this is a quality
piece of cinema, which explores some difficult issues in a sensitive,
intelligent manner, and which puts many Hollywood blockbusters
Where it could have been cavalier and exploitative, the film
treads carefully, seldom seeming afraid to tackle its provocative
subject matter head on.
Bernal stars as idealistic young priest, Father Amaro, who arrives
in the small backwater town of Los Reyes to be trained by Father
Benito (Sancho Gracia) - a morally compromised tutor, who has
his own mistress and funds his charity work by performing private
religious functions for the a drug lord.
Determined to set Amaro a better example to follow, Benito soon
finds himself having to contend with the young priest's growing
attraction towards Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón), the beautiful
daughter of his own mistress, while simultaneously trying to deal
with the intrusive media, which seems determined to expose the
priests for the hypocrits they are.
It isn't long, therefore, before the lovestruck duo embark on
an affair, which comes to a head with an unexpected pregnancy
and some tough choices.
But what sounds like a Mexican version of The Thorn Birds, is
actually made more intricate by the dealings of the priests themselves
- no one is beyond temptation or sin, and thrown into the mix
is a rebel priest in the mountains, a wicked elder who loves to
stir up trouble, a heartbroken journalist, and a Sacristan with
a mentally-challenged daughter, Vicente.
As the publicity states, 'Let him who is free of sin cast the
Needless to say, not everything works out for the best - with
almost all of the protagonists having to pay in some way for their
And the ensuing movie makes for riveting stuff, fuelled by some
first-rate performances and enough moral dilemmas to make your
The priests, for instance, make those in The Godfather: Part
3 look positively amateur by comparison, given that many of them
have ties with guerilla soldiers, drug traffickers and are not
afraid to use the perceived power of the church to get what they
want (particularly when dealing with the press).
With so much temptation placed before him, it is little wonder
that Amaro eventually succumbs, and his transition from a heartfelt
do-gooder to a conflicted lover is a powerful journey - but one
worth taking for audiences who enjoy being challenged.
Is it right, for instance, that a Catholic Church, which places
so much faith in the sanctity of marriage, forces its own priests
to remain celibate for life? Is love such a crime for a priest?
Credit must also be given to director, Carlos Carrera, for the
way in which he expertly juggles the many facets of the story,
without ever losing the audience's interest, or forgetting any
of the characters.
His use of location and imagery, too, works well, without ever
feeling too preachy or signposted.
Of the cast, Gracia and Damián Alcázar, as the
rebel Father Natalio, are particularly strong, but this is Bernal's
movie and his charisma and sensitivity, coupled with his hopeless
good-looks, provide viewers with a genuinely moving character
who is difficult to resist or feel pity for - even when being
called upon to do some 'unholy' things.
With this, Y Tu Mamá and Amores Perros to his name already,
Bernal is clearly a young star to watch, and one can only wait
for his next venture with anticipation.
The Crime of Father Amaro won't be to everyone's tastes, but
it remains another fine example of why foreign cinema is so highly-rated
and worth seeking out for anyone wanting a break from the mainstream.
Pray that it finds its way into a local cinema near you.