Written by: Vicente Leñero
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Ana Claudia Talancón, Sancho Garcia, Luisa Huertas
When one is aligned where power resides, different rules apply to you. This looks different in various cultures like the rich in the United States, but in the fictional Mexican town of Los Reyes, it happens to be the Catholic Church. As demonstrated in the bleak The Crime of Padre Amaro, the larger image matters far more than the acts of the individual.
Newly ordained priest, Father Amaro (Gael García Bernal) enters his new parish hoping to serve his Lord but learns that everything does not work as simply as the seminary makes it look. In this town, he learns about the corrupt ways things happen and what one can get away with if they’re a man of the cloth.
The sex scandals uncovered by priests in the Catholic Church opened up a world of ceaseless pain subjected to young people. Ultimately a play of power with these priests, the horrendous amount of stature these men have in the communities can serve well but far too many cases appear to have the opposite effect. This film demonstrates how the intentions of a young priest can change once this level of power becomes evident to them. A scary story to witness but one that has probably happened in more than one circumstance.
The controversial element of this movie lies in the relationship Amaro has with a young parishioner. A sexual relationship they both feel comes from a place of love, but their status and age difference cannot show the reality of the circumstance. We have the impressionable Amaro looking for attention in any way but the other member of this relationship is the 16-year-old Amelia. A devout Catholic to the point where she teaches Sunday school and won’t go further with her boyfriend because of him being an atheist, talk about dedication. While she remains devoted to her faith, she begins to have her sexual awakening and it fixates on the handsome Father Amaro. Everything about their courtship comes with a layer of disgust, as their relationship begins to spark from confessions she made to him as a priest about her sexual desires. It only further exemplifies how he uses the power he has over her to gain her affection even more than he has already in such a predatory manner.
Having any movie where a priest has a sexual relationship with another person will raise eyebrows because of the protection these clergymen receive from the larger Catholic Church. As seen with other scandals they would rather cover up any individual issues as to not raise any sort of alarm about the position of priests within a community. Take the reception of this film as a firm example, as Catholic bishops and organizations asked people not to see it and even asked governments to ban it because of the content portrayed. Even if they failed, the lobbying power of the Catholic Church makes itself evident with the release of the film, but it also occurs within the story itself. Father Amaro becomes aware of a large hospital and recreation center being built in the community through the partial funding of a drug cartel. A journalist character becomes aware of it as well and publicizes this hypocrisy by the church. I’m sure you can guess what happens next when the Catholic Church uses all its might to discredit and destroy the person pointing out facts about their dealings.
The Crime of Padre Amaro works on both levels when looking at the corruption of the church. It can be seen through the relationship Amaro has with Amelia and also how the bishops and priests navigate their business to get things done. The individual tragedy occurs with the sexual relationship, but on a wider scale, the way parishioners are led to believe the figures in the church are doing everything for the good of the people in the way God intended shows a complete destruction of trust. The reason for this blatant corruption can be analyzed by people who know the inner-workings more than me, but it becomes tragic that we have people blindly believing these clergymen will always do right by them when these men hold unchecked power over these people. The same thing happens with Amelia where she believes Amaro will take care of her no matter what occurs in their relationship, but with these priests, power comes before anything else.
The bleak nature of the film will not leave you with a smile but it tricks you into wanting to root for Amaro. One, he’s portrayed by the great Gael García Bernal, but he also has such charisma. It’s obvious what makes people attracted to him and once he learns how he can use it to his advantage, he falls into the same trappings. Things get incredibly dark in this film, which makes sense why Catholic organizations wanted it banned, but the story nonetheless remains vital because of the countless times this has probably happened and has never been reported. The conclusion for the story speaks for itself.
Driven by a tremendous performance by Gael García Bernal and a story willing to tackle a controversial and yet vital subject matter, The Crime of Padre Amaro proves its worth as a film. It will make you question what machinations of power exist and what would be covered up if you found yourself mixed up with the wrong person attached to it. A horrifying and overall sad story that must be told, and I’m glad it was made with the quality the final product displayed.