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El Crimen Del Padre Amaro


El Crimen Del Padre Amaro


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As bad omens go, getting robbed while traveling to start a new life in a new town ranks among the worst. But that doesn't seem to faze Gael García Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También), the protagonist of El Crimen Del Padre Amaro. In fact, little seems to faze Bernal, even when it should. The handsome young priest arrives at his new post (a small Mexican city) full of lofty ideals, new liberal notions, and a commitment to the profession that announces itself even though he often doesn't bother to wear his priestly collar. But if he'd paid more attention to details like the recorded sound effects and PA system standing in for actual church bells, Bernal might have suspected that his new assignment would require more than zeal. "A priest who barks doesn't bite," new mentor Sancho Gracia informs him. But Gracia himself does little barking or biting–he spends his nights with a local widow, and his days overseeing the construction of a hospital built with money contributed by a corrupt mayor and the drug lords who control him. The moral paradox of that situation typifies director Carlos Carrera's film, a modernized adaptation of an 1875 book by reform-minded Portuguese novelist Eça De Queirós. Without the dirty money, the church can do little to help its parishioners' material needs, but what authority can it wield from the pockets of gangsters? The film introduces many such quandaries, which seem designed almost exclusively to drag Bernal deeper into the undertow, as he defends Gracia's practices, observes the disenfranchisement of a peasant-sympathizing liberation-theology adherent, and tests his virtue with Ana Claudia Talancón, a teenager for whom loving a priest serves as an extension of her boundless piety. Carrera keeps an even hand throughout, and his cast members bring the complexities of their situation to the fore, but the film eventually starts to feel like a maze with no exit: The characters are trapped in a situation that demands hypocrisy of everyone but would-be martyrs. In Mexico, El Crimen Del Padre Amaro sparked controversy and debate on church reforms, but however much the film may mirror the truth, dramatically it feels like a cheat. It omits the human spark that would make it work as a film, rather than a collection of dramatized issues.