A/V Room









The Crime of Father Amaro (15)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

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 to shame.

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 first stone'.

Needless to say, not everything works out for the best - with almost all of the protagonists having to pay in some way for their behaviour.

And the ensuing movie makes for riveting stuff, fuelled by some first-rate performances and enough moral dilemmas to make your head spin.

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.

# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z