The Crime of Father Amaro

EL CRIMEN DEL PADRE AMARO

3 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: January 22, 2003
Reviewed at the 2003 Palm Springs International Film Festival
Confessor heal thy self

Carlos Carrera’s too believable study in hypocrisy focuses on the Roman Catholic Church but could easily be applied to business, governments, the media—any organization that purports to know what’s best for others, and has the resources to enforce its will.

But, like the middle-class “dogs” in Filantropica (cross-reference below) it is the powerless faithful that pay the price.

In the opening sequence we meet Father Amaro (Gael Garcia Bernal whose good looks and lusty slide into corruption would have been more convincing if the original—Eca de Queiroz’s 1875 novel—time setting had remained; in the present day, surely his faith would have evaporated long before answering his “call”) and see him perform his only charitable act (incongruously repaid in the final act) after the metaphorical bus hold-up assures us this priest is good.

Once he arrives at his new post, we soon discover that his mentor, Father Benito (given a totally convincing performance by veteran Sancho Gracia) has rationalized his considerable money-laundering operation (drug cash for, allegedly, the construction of a “good works” hospital) and long-standing affair with a comely and loyal restaurateur (Angélica Aragón). But with a stated philosophy of “The only hell is loneliness,” all is forgiven.

Like Father like Son, for soon Amaro is giving the beautiful waitress, Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón), who eagerly drops her journalist boyfriend, Reuben (played with appropriate angst by Andres Montiel) to take her Catechism lessons in bed, no doubt encouraging her devotion to his heavenly member even as he communes with her flesh. Unfortunately their rhythm wasn’t immaculate and the suspect services of the Dionisia—whose literal cat house is filled with give-away foreshadowing mangled baby dolls—are required. Luisa Huertes excels in this portrayal of a tormented wretch whose assistance can be bought and whose silence can be secured with a permanent seat in the front pew, praying beside the Mayor.

Meanwhile, the Bishop (Ernesto Gómez Cruz) uses his power to buy the media (“You will print a front page retraction to your story about how the Church is in bed with the drug lords or your advertising will disappear”—pure fiction, this could never happen in Canada!) and the ex-communication of the only honest priest in Mexico. Naturally, the damning article was written by the jilted Reuben so he too discovers that even managing to reveal the truth doesn’t change much. And, in one marvellous scene, Beethoven’s piano concerto masterpiece provides the inspiration for the Bishop’s next act of self-serving treachery as he soaks to its strains in the holy tub.

Little wonder this film received such a rocky reception in Mexico: by its end, evil has triumphed, the scandals discovered but ignored; all the usurped Father Benito can do is push his wheelchair away and count his blessings. JWR

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