Carlos Carrera’s El Crimen del Padre Amaro begins with a disclaimer of sorts. Though based on a novel by Eça de Queirós written in 1875, the film takes place in modern Mexico. The story itself remains the same, as does the overall effect: the Catholic Church is as ill-equipped for this century as it was for the last. Padre Amaro (Gael García Bernal) is sent to Los Reyes to assist the aging Padre Benito (Sancho Gracia) at the town’s basilica. Benito condemns Padre Natalio (Damián Alcázar) for associating with impoverished guerrillas and refuses to contest the church’s celibacy policy for priests. The man’s hypocrisy is overwhelming: not only is he having an affair with Sanjuanera (Angélica Aragón), a local restaurant owner, but he’s also helping to fund a local medical clinic with money provided by an infamous drug lord, the very man Natalio’s guerrilla warriors are taking arms against. A box-office sensation in its native homeland, El Crimen del Padre Amaro unravels like a quintessential Mexican telenovela. Though the film’s provocations are incendiary, they’re also humorous and earnest without being heavy-handed; no small feat considering how easy it is for films like The Magdalene Sisters to be blindsided by their raging polemics. Padre Amaro’s relationship with Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón), la Sanjuaranera’s daughter, is a fascinating one. During confession, Amaro tells her that it is not a sin for her to touch herself but that it is sinful for her to think of Jesus when doing so. Not that she’s thinking of having sex with Jesus, of course. This tender exchange merely evokes Amaro’s fear of approaching sex as a spiritual experience. They schedule secret rendezvous inside the home of the church’s impoverished driver, whose mentally ill daughter listens to Amaro and Amelia’s lovemaking from an adjacent room. The film’s money shot is audacious yet tender, recalling a more notorious sequence from Viridiana where Buñuel’s titular heroine milked a cow’s teat at the forceful request of a servant. Amaro dresses Amelia as the Virgin Mary before making love to her. If their secret love makes Amelia feel like a whore then this beautiful scene suggests Amaro’s willingness to give himself to a different kind of religion. The Church’s hold, though, is unforgiving and, as a result, the demise of their love plays out like a tragic act of penance.
- Carlos Carrera
- Vicente Leñero
- Gael García Bernal, Ana Claudia Talancón, Sancho Garcia, Angélica Aragón, Luisa Huertas, Ernesto Gómez Cruz, Gastón Melo, Damián Alcázar
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