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Wednesday, November 27, 2002

El Crimen del Padre Amaro
On Sunday I headed to the Harvard Exit to see El Crimen del Padre Amaro, better known as “the movie with Gael García Bernal in it.” (Yes, the cute guy from Amores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También—and surely the reason that everyone thinks those two movies were made by the same director.) The plot is relatively complex, but basically it’s the story of a young Mexican priest (Bernal) sent out into the countryside to gain pastoral experience. The young father seems like a nice guy, but quickly enough he gives into the temptations of the flesh (strictly hetero), is corrupted by ambition, and destroys the lives of his most faithful parishioners.

It’s based on a 19th-century Portuguese novel by Eça de Queiroz, and while I wasn’t sufficiently taken by the movie to read the book, I’d be interested to know the basic outline, since the screenwriter did a great job of weaving contemporary Mexican social problems into the storyline. For example, the priest supervising Amaro, Padre Benito, is a crusty old Spaniard, which highlights not only his somewhat condescending attitudes to the New World community in which he’s lived for decades, but also represents a continuation of the Spanish Civil War: One of the village’s upstanding citizens is another aging Old Worlder, the Communist father of a young journalist, who is still fighting Franco and the church.

The film also raised—pretty superficially in most cases—the all-consuming influence of drug money in Mexican life, the difficulties facing the independent press, and the harshness of country life. The bishop’s campaign to excommunicate a radical priest who lives with his peasant flock way out in the sierra because he claims said priest supports guerrillas, even as the bishop ignores the evil deeds of a drug lord so that he can pocket his contributions, makes you think Sinead O’Connor’s “Fight the real enemy” was spot on.

Ignoring the big issues and focusing on the forbidden love at the center of the plot, the movie reminded me of Ballykissangel. In fact, I would have liked it to be a bit more like Ballykissangel. For me, the weakest element of El Crimen del Padre Amaro was Amelia, the priest’s totty. Perhaps piousness and pouting lips are all that it takes to tempt a man of the cloth away from the path of righteousness, especially if he’s already convinced that celibacy should be optional, but I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more spark in Amelia. Back in Ballykissangel, Assumpta was such a piston that you could very easily believe that even a committed priest would forsake his vows, and the tension as he struggled with that made even a silly series gripping. If you’re never convinced Padre Amaro has a sincere vocation, he’s just a manipulating social-climber stepping on innocent people as he climbs up the hierarchy. And no matter how appealing his green eyes are, he’s just a jerk in a Roman collar.

El Crimen del Padre Amaro Extra: The movie’s IMDB page has some stills; the official site has a really annoying menu icon that follows you around and gets in the way of scrolling, but there's some good info in there.