Human Strength, Human Frailty

El Crimen del padre Amaro shows that no issue is without complication

By Leticia Villasenor
Published on LatinoLA: January 15, 2003

Human Strength, Human Frailty

Mexican film director Carlos Carrera paints a bleak portrait of the Catholic Church in his film ?El Crimen del Padre Amaro.? In his latest film, in which corruption and sin abound, Carrera takes a close look at the conflict between the vow of celibacy and man?s carnal desire for the flesh.

24-year old Father Amaro (Gael Garcia Bernal), a recently ordained priest, is sent to a small parish in Los Reyes, Mexico to assist the older Father Benito, Spanish veteran actor Sancho Gracia. Initially, Amaro is full of pure intentions and faith?he pledges his life to helping those less fortunate. However, as the film progresses, the young priest begins to see that the aging Father Benito is mixed up in a sea of corruption. Father Benito is receiving large sums of money from the region?s drug lord in order to build his new health clinic for the people of Los Reyes.

At mass, Amaro meets 16-year old Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancon), whose religious devotion is tested in her growing attraction towards Amaro. Both try to resist, but the physical attraction is too strong for Amaro to live up to the Church?s chastity vow. Their first kiss takes place in the pews of the church, which makes their sexual relationship seem even more forbidden.

Amaro also learns that Father Benito has been carrying on an affair with Amelia?s mother, Sanjuanera, for many years. Amelia seems determined to follow in her mother?s footsteps and Sanjuanera actually encourages her. Amaro and Amelia meet regularly for their rendezvous under the cover that he is ?secretly preparing Amelia to be a nun.?

Both Amaro and Benito are torn in their religious devotion and weakness for physical intimacy. Amelia asks Amaro to give up the priesthood and marry her, but by this time, Amaro has been blinded by the potential power that the Church can offer. He uses Amelia to satisfy his own needs, and forgets that she is only a child, eight years his junior.

This is a film which tackles two difficult issues. When Amelia bluntly tells Amaro that their love is carnal, not spiritual, he is forced to admit this fact. Priests are, after all, real men and Carrera calls into question the church?s vow of celibacy. The second issue is the corruption of the priesthood?money-laundering, sex, and guerrilla affiliation. Is it a sin that Father Benito used money from a drug-czar to build a new health clinic for the people? Does it matter where he got the money so long as it was used to build something good?

?El Crimen del padre Amaro? is brimming with an all-star cast. Garcia Bernal (?Amores Perros? and ?Y tu Mama tambien?) is mesmerizing as the torn soul of Father Amaro. His crystal-clear blue eyes betray the inner-conflict that he must deal with. In one scene, we see the formerly serene and nurturing priest turn into a monster. In a fit of frustrated rage, he smacks Amelia in the face and curses at her, only to sob the next second and beg for forgiveness. 22-year old Ana Claudia Talancon, who plays Amelia, also gives a tender performance. She, too, is a mixture of contradictions?pure and modest at one moment, and then seductive and worldly in the next.

Carrera?s film shows that no issue is without complication and that no man is perfect. He gives us raw portrayals of normal people, who struggle with morality and spirituality. The film is not an entire bashing of the Catholic Church, but rather a difficult look at human strength as well as human frailty.

About Leticia Villasenor:
Leticia Villase?or is a senior at USC double majoring in French and International Relations. I write film reviewers for her school paper, the USC Daily Trojan, where this review originally appeared.

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