The Crime of Father Amaro
Truly controversial movies
are so rare these days in the cineplex that it becomes tiresome to watch distributors market their movies as racy simply for PR reasons (remember Eyes Wide Shut
?), an especially irritating tactic when it is clear that a film like Irreversible
does not even need to be marketed because it is so disturbing that word spreads about it on its own. The Crime of Padre Amaro
, Mexico’s bid for the 2002 Best Foreign Film award and marketed with the tagline “one of the most controversial movies ever”, is certainly trying to bank on the false perception that the material is somehow riot inducing. Yes, it is about a Catholic Father (Amores Perros
and Y Tu Mama También
heartthrob Gael García Bernal) sleeping with an underage girl (Ana Claudia Talacón)-though the age difference is never stated and both actors look roughly the same age-and yes, it is about the corruption of the Catholic Church. Maybe someone should have told the filmmakers that this is 2003, and that the source novel is over 100 years old, and that these themes (corruption in the Church, well I never!) are real old hat, and especially old hat in face of the child molesting charges the Church faced around the time The Crime of Father Amaro was released.
Not one member of the Church, from
the parishioners all the way up to the local bishop are clean in this movie, and their crimes range the gamut from the pedophilia implied with Father Amaro, to using drug money to fund a hospital, advocating abortion, pre-marital sex, gluttony, fornication, and supporting local guerillas. The film certainly paints a depressingly nonchalant picture of the state of the modern Church, but since all of the Catholics in the film appear to have no conflict between their fanatical devotion to the faith (Ms. Talacón practically has a heart attack when her boyfriend verbally slips and admits to not believing in God…) and their actions (…yet she has no problem sexually seducing Father Amaro) the movie comes off less as a criticism of the strictness or antiquated edicts of the Church than simply a large catalogue of the pitfalls that Catholics fall into in a rather rural, poorly supervised community.
The fault of The Crime of Father Amaro
, with its indictment of an entire Mexican church going community, lacks is any sense of conflict. Each character leaps from emotion to emotion with no evidence of a conflicting bridge: in a blink of an eye Amaro jumps from pious, earnest devotion to suddenly deflowering a young girl under the guise of training to her to be a nun. Similarly, the Bishop speaks against Church involvement with guerrillas and then okays using drug funds, a Father denounces Amaro’s sexual relationship yet has a similar one himself, and so on with almost every actor with a speaking role. The affair between Amaro and the young girl, supposedly the highlight of the film, would appear to be youthful lust out of control if only every other character in the film, all much older than them, wasn’t just as foolishly hypocritical as they are. Nobody seems to have a problem with their double standards, not even Amaro, who for the first hour of the film gives the impression of the exact kind of sincere, devout youth that the Church would use to stave off the corruption in such small towns.
The controversial sex between the two youths is passionless as it is pointless because it is unclear what is driving these people to be as sinful as they are religious. With the exception of one particular Father who staunchly wants to preach the word of God regardless of intersession from Church elders, every single character in The Crime of Father Amaro
is in the same situation of beliefs conflicting with actions, yet this conflict is only visible to the audience as none of the characters seem to be aware of the deep hypocrisy in front of them. This total vacuum of self-awareness in every single character in the film world is what prevents the movie from making any kind of intelligent comment on the current state of the Mexican Church. As the film is so sloppily spread out across characters in nearly similar situations, The Crime of Father Amaro
places some kind of blame on everyone and cannot bring itself to focusing on its title character-which seems like yet another irritating marketing jab to draw attention to the film’s “controversial” indictment of the Church clergy. The entire cast is shortchanged by a script that gives everyone involved banal roles that lack the kind of dynamism that could have made the movie a study of temptation in the clergy, or upholding unrealistic laws in unusual situations, or how clergy corruption affects its parishioners or visa versa. Yes, Talacón and Bernal look good together half naked, yes, every single Catholic in the movie appears somewhat dirty, but what the The Crime of Father Amaro
does is leave a slight aftertaste of anger not at the Church but at these people in the movie who do not seem to understand what the hell they are doing or why they are doing it. With a film this stale the effect of the movie’s own shortcomings on its character portrayals is just about the only thing of interest, and that is saying a lot about a movie supposedly about a scandalous passion of youthful indiscretion.