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2 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Crime of Padre Amaro, The
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by Carina Hoskisson

"Hugely controversial, nearly impeccable"
4 stars

The last thing the Catholic Church needs is something else besmirching its name and undermining its authority. Or at least that was the pressure used by the Church to try to stop the progress of this burning and possibly polemical Mexican film. As usual, a film that may not have received a lot of press becomes successful because of, if not in spite of, the huge opposition. Thankfully, El Crimen deserves the attention. It is a challenging film that features the tale of one young priest who aims for the highest ranks of the modern priesthood.

El Crimen del Padre Amaro centers on the eponymous Padre Amaro, Gael Garcia Bernal in another amazing turn as the recently ordained priest. Amaroís youth, commitment and devotion to his faith promise great things to come. He is sent to a small town in the Mexican countryside where Amaro will learn his vocation and, hopefully, begin his rise in the church hierarchy.

Los Reyes current town priest, Padre Benito (veteran Spanish actor Sancho Gracia,) moved from Spain many years ago and appears devoted to his parishionersí well being. Benito, very aware of the hierarchical ambitions of Amaro, promises the new father that doing well in Los Reyes means notice from the Bishop and certain advancement. Benito caters specifically to influential families who can advance his own causes, including overseeing the construction of a new hospital. Several priests in the area gather at Benitoís rectory on a semi-regular basis to discuss theological points, politics and bond as brothers in the priesthood.
As part of the group Amaro is introduced to another priest, Natalio (Damian Alcazar,) who labors among the remote peasants in the surrounding mountainside. Natalioís obvious dedication to the teachings of the church and desire to help his parishioners inspires the new priestís own vocation.

Amaro, while constantly told of his promise, is searching for his own priestly identity. Will he fight on the side of the common people like Natalio? This would surely magnify his priesthood and dedication to his God. Will Amaro seek for the power and influence of the upper classes like Benito? Influential families often mean the money and power to rise more quickly inside the church. Amaro must reconcile those twin desires while still learning how to be a true Father.

Complicating Amaroís growth as a priest is the transferring love of a stunning village teenager, Amelia. While the priests debate the merits of celibacy in the modern church, the devout and fetching Amelia increasingly pursues Amaro. Much has been written about the thin line between religious devotion and sexual fervor. Amelia personifies this duality as she deliberately seeks to seduce Amaro through both her piety and her body.

El Crimen del Padre Amaro raised the ample cackles of the Catholic Church for many reasons obvious in the film. There are, of course, good and bad priests, pure or corrupt whether in this film or in real life. Amaroís decisions to remain faithful to the church are tested over and over. His mentors each reveal their own struggles. Interestingly, this film is based on a novel. Alright thatís not terribly interesting, but you might want to know that the novel was written in the late 1800ís. At first, one might view Amaroís struggles as the reflection of the modern church. The reality is, the issues portrayed in El Crimen have long wracked most religious communities. Where does your faith stop? What dogmas do you identify with? Can you pick and choose the dogmas according to what you want or hope to be true? The young priestís calling to his God is unquestionable. Or maybe thatís just his ambition. The viewer is never quite clear where Amaroís ambition ends and his faith begins.

What made El Crimen so controversial are the same issues that caused the film to become the highest grossing Mexican film of all time (in Mexico.) The theaters were so crowded people sat on each otherís laps to view the movie. The significant religious imagery is positively shocking to more pious viewers. However, Mexico, just as in much of the Spanish-speaking Catholic world, finds itself on the brink of secularization. The intensely religious world of parents and grandparents is at once polarizing and smothering the youth culture. The young adults see little of themselves reflected in the Church (also an issue addressed in El Crimen,) but are deeply bound to the Church through cultural and familial ties.

A movie is only as good as the casting. Thankfully, El Crimen is rife with the kind of rich performances so lacking in most cinematic fare. Gael Garcia Bernal is so good it almost hurts to watch him. His previous outings in Mexican cinema, the brutal (and amazing) Amores Perros and the intense (and erotic) Y Tu Mama Tambien, prove that Bernal isnít just going places heís on the rocket towards international super stardom. As the contrasting priests Benito and Natalio, Gracia and Alcazar embody both the authority of the priesthood and the devotion to their flocks. Ana Claudia Talanconís Amelia is pure, sweet, and carnal. Talancon appearances are mobbed in Mexico, and itís no wonder why.
The other players are no less deserving of a mention, but I will spare you the detail account. Although the cast is expansive, each character features specific motivations and are deftly handled by the director. I know itís just been a few sentences, but its time again to mention that Gael Garcia Bernal is beyond extraordinary. Iíve run out of superlatives to describe him.

El Crimen is also devastatingly beautiful. The arc of the story moves carefully but steadily. Writer Vincente Lenero took the original Portuguese novel, modernized it, placed it in Mexico, and lost none of the core struggles. The slow paced editing belies the New Mexican Cinema movement. Cinematographer Guillermo Granillo convincingly places you inside a small town with the everyday vignettes and expansive views that translate into pure cinematic dessert.

Director Carlos Carrera faced opposition from powerful forces while making the film. Persevering through the fears of the church and the laity, Carrera has made an incredibly gorgeous film that succeeds on every level that it attempts.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7618&reviewer=44
originally posted: 05/12/03 19:21:51
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User Comments

8/13/05 love provoking, melodramatic and very interesting film 4 stars
11/02/04 jennette orlando i thought this film was a real eye opener to catholic religion. 5 stars
8/27/04 Abu everything is superb. you've got to love the catholic church. 4 stars
8/01/04 Charlene Javier Tad melodramatic. 3 stars
5/18/03 Andrew Carden Overdone Film Tries Too Hard To Be An Artistic Beauty, but Fails. Good Screenplay & Cast. 3 stars
5/14/03 mark a truley thought provoking and affecting modern tragedy 5 stars
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  15-Nov-2002 (R)



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