Reviewer's Rating 3 out of 5  
The Crime of Father Amaro (El Crimen del Padre Amaro) (2003)

Nominated for best foreign language film at this year's Oscars, this contentious melodrama was a huge hit with everyone in Mexico bar its Catholic elite. They were so incensed by the movie's perceived anti-clericalism, threats to have the film's stars excommunicated were discussed.

You can understand why they got hot under the dog-collar. For Carlos Carrera's film depicts the church as a den of iniquity, in league with corrupt politicians, cocaine cartels, and backstreet abortion clinics.

Having survived a guerrilla bus hijacking, young Padre Amaro (Gael García Bernal of "Amores Perros" fame) arrives in the small backwater of Los Reyes to be trained by Father Benito (Sancho Gracia).

Benito, we learn, has a secret mistress - café owner Augustina (Angélica Aragón) - and funds his charity work by performing private baptisms for the local drug kingpin.

With such an upstanding mentor, it's hardly surprising that Amaro falls for Augustina's beautiful daughter, Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón). Soon the passionate celibate and the sensuous innocent are lovers, Amaro concealing their affair by pretending that he's giving her holy orders.

With a rebel priest in the mountains, an evil crone stirring up trouble, and a Sacristan with a mentally-challenged daughter, Vicente Lenero's script is certainly not short on incident. So it's slightly disappointing the story eventually concentrates on its least interesting plot strand, involving an unplanned pregnancy.

Despite these sudsy storylines, though, it's difficult to resist the sweaty passions, subversive intrigue, and Bernal's glowering, matinee-idol charisma.

In Spanish with English subtitles.

End Credits

Director: Carlos Carrera

Writer: Vicente Leñero

Stars: Gael García Bernal, Sancho Gracia, Ana Claudia Talancón, Angélica Aragón, Damián Alcázar

Genre: Drama, World Cinema

Length: 118 minutes

Cinema: 20 June 2003

Country: Mexico

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