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El Crimen del Padre Amaro (Carlos Carrera) 2002


    El Crimen del Padre Amaro, Carlos Carrera’s limp attack on organized religion, is a soggy melodrama that never builds its laundry list of wild incidents into something that’s either emotionally engaging or a potent political attack. One can’t help but wonder what all of the real-world fuss, which has lead to an insane amount of controversy in the film’s native Mexico, is about, especially since the source material for the picture is a novel that was written in 1875. Though the movie deals with forbidden love, money laundering, drug dealing, abortion, guerilla fighters and lapsed priests, there’s little that manages to titillate or even come to life. The somber tone is rather surprising given the amount of vindictiveness on display here, but it seems calculated so the movie’s attempts to deride its targets can appear to be hard-won ones. Unfortunately, as much as the film is to be commended for not sensationalizing things or bringing up pedophilia, that scheme backfires, leaving a series of scenes that feel boring, empty, and obvious.


    There’s an a serious, unmistakably devout vibe running throughout Crimen, but it seems to exist only so the filmmakers can further how vile they think organized religion is. It seems too easy here to suggest that faith and religion are entirely separate things, since there are plenty of committed characters in the film that seem to have no problem with the act of worshiping. Since the movie wants to align us with the charismatic and sexy titular protagonist (Gael Garcia Bernal), it seems afraid to truly criticize his actions. Everything that he or his fellow corrupt priests does, no matter how reprehensible, is presented on terms that the audience could sympathize with, but that ample justification sells the scale of their transgressions short and undercuts the drama that should be inherent in the movie. The sense of duty that he should feel toward his parishioners is not stressed, and the ones that the audience gets to know the most are all about as dastardly as the priests seem to be. There’s not really any soul searching here, since the movie insists on appealing to the audience’s ability to rationalize away the reasons behind the misdeeds that occur. When a young boy asks the meaning of the word “fornicate” at one point, the movie expects us to recoil at his temerity, almost to the point where it seems more ghastly than anything the priests do, but I found myself far more disturbed by the inaccurate answer offered to him (“It means to eat meat during the holy day.”) that his honest question. El Crimen del Padre Amaro doesn’t seem to see the hypocrisy in this moment, because it’s too busy attempting to manipulate us so we giggle, and in that lack of clear-sightedness, it similarly fails when attempting to show us its central moral dilemmas.


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Jeremy Heilman