A review of “El Crimen de Padre Amaro” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: R for nudity, language.  In Spanish with English subtitles.

Run Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes

 

 

Blistering hot Gael García Bernal (“Y Tu Mama Tambien”) is the saving grace of this quasi-religious melting pot of a film that speaks to religious devotion, and corruption.

Father Amaro (Bernal) is a recently ordained priest.  Just 24-years old and still wet behind the ears, Amaro is dispatched to a small parish church in Los Reyes, Mexico to assist the aging Father Benito (Sancho Gracia).  One look at his fetching 16-year old parishioner Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón) is all it takes for Amaro to fall hopelessly in lust. 

Love among the ruins isn’t all that’s simmering beneath the surface of this picturesque little village. Benito is on the take from the region’s most influential drug lord, accepting vast amounts of cash to aid in the construction of a new health clinic.  The revolutionary Father Natalio (Damían Alcázar), a well-respected member of the diocese, is suspected of assisting guerilla troops in the highlands, and is ultimately condemned for his involvement.

There are a number of meaty issues to be explored here – the complexity of religious faith, the dilemmas inherent in forced celibacy, and the troubled relationship between the Church and its Faithful’s economic struggles.  But what could have been a prickly morality tale is served up as an idiosyncratic soap-opera.  Comic where it should be earnest, and somber where it should casually rest on its melodramatic laurels, “Amaro” has difficulty choosing, and maintaining, an even pitch.

I am not a religious being, but I’m offended at the notion of a 16-year old girl, bound by her obedience to God, falling for and abruptly bedding her priest.  Bernal (a proud member of my 2001 hunks list) manages to rise above the shenanigans with a savvy that belies his tender age.  Cheesy, hyper-dramatic conclusion can be spotted a mile off, a bitter payoff for two hours of effort.