aka EL CRIMEN DEL PADRE AMARO
Movie Review by Stephen Doyle
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Ana Claudia Talancón, Sancho Gracia, Angelica Aragón
Director: Carlos Carrera
The crime of the title refers to the carnal knowledge that rookie priest Father Amaro (Gael Garcia Bernal) treats himself to. The handsome Amaro has just been sent to serve in Los Reyos, a small Mexican town, by the bishop. Los Reyos’ veteran priest, Father Benito (Sancho Gracia), takes Amaro under his wing, but soon proves to be a dubious patron, due to his links with the local drug barons, and his possession of a long-term illicit mistress. The daughter of this mistress is the quite delectable Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón), who, from the moment she sets eyes on Amaro, finds him irresistible. Father Amaro eventually gives into this temptation, with predictably catastrophic results.
Various other relevant sub-plots run through the main narrative. This is one of the films strongest features – it’s wide Altmanesque range of sub-plots and characters. At its best this is a consummate study of provincial life, with all the players within the community represented in significant and developed roles – the young, idealistic priest, the veteran, world-weary priest, his doting mistress, the rebel Liberation Theology priest, the mayor, the bishop, the drug baron, the village idiot, the village weirdo and so on. The film develops these characters and their unexpected links with each other in a mature and intelligent way. Veteran character actors of Mexican cinema bring the assortment of characters to life vividly.
The film is without doubt worthy, but it unfortunately remains a mostly dour and laugh-free affair, which holds few, if any, great surprises. I suspect, in fact, that this film would not be released outside Mexico at all if it were not for the presence of Gael Garcia Bernal, as Father Amaro. Bernal is far from being a household name outside of his native Mexico, but he is quickly developing a dedicated cult following around the globe after two head turning performances in s pair of awesome South American films: AMORES PERROS and Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN. In neither film was he the main star, and in both films he played essentially the same character – a reckless urbanite youth. So I feared he might trip up in this production, which sees him take the main lead and playing against type as an idealistic and introspective young priest. My fears were ungrounded.
Bernal has already received much in the way of praise and I here wish to contribute my own. He is simply an outstanding actor who is gifted with amazing presence; he has the natural ability to captivate your attention without even speaking. Only 24 years old, he is surrounded in this film by veterans of Mexican cinema, yet, playing the eponymous hero, he carries the film skillfully and fearlessly on his own.
His performance only partially covers up the films flaws however. These include an uneven tone which sees a first half of promising political intrigue turn into a second half of romance and melodrama; and pedestrian directing, especially noticeable after all the rich visual inventiveness that South American cinema has been offering lately (see NINE QUEENS, CITY OF GOD, and Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN). All in all a mostly ascetic, if worthy, movie.