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Film Review: The Crime of Father Amaro

A controversial film from Mexico...

Few films caused the Catholic hierarchy so much indignation as the Crime of Father Amaro. And rarely has the Catholic Church shot itself in the foot so spectacularly well. A well-acted melodrama from Mexico, The Crime of Father Amaro ("El Crimen de Padre Amaro") was Oscar-nominated in 2003 in the foreign film category. The leading role is taken by what ought to be the film's biggest selling point, Gael Garcia Bernal, from 'Amor es Perros' and 'Y Tu Mama Tambien'. The Vatican's rage at the film's subject matter however guaranteed it full houses across Mexico and made it that country's biggest grossing home-made film ever. Well, who wouldn't want to see a film the American Council of Catholic Bishops labelled "profane" and "blasphemous"?

The Crime of Father AmaroTelling the love story of a young priest and a beautiful country girl in modern-day Mexico, the power in the film is in the acting. The plot remains predictable throughout, apart from in its sad denouement. The idyllic provincial setting is a little too idyllic too. The storyline is assuredly formed with several tangents that all eventually converge in a denouncement of Catholic doctrine and the blind loyalty of a hooded laity. The script meanwhile is consistently pithy and sharp. To some extent the project suffers from an over-load of characters, or poorly utilised characters. The town bitch/witch for example suffers from all too much fairy tale stereotyping and her entry to the action is entirely predictable. Where she and her cronies are effective they bring a sense of dark comedy to the film and help to convey more of the hypocrisy of the Catholic church and its followers.

Celibacy, contraception and corruption are all themes here, with the local Catholic hierarchy going down as hypocrites on each count. There's no one inherently evil here but there are plenty misled. The victims of the story are ironically the most faithful adherents to the teachings of Christ, and those who don't believe but who suffer for pointing out to the Emperor's lack of clothes.

'The Crime of Father Amaro' is another reason for hope in the Mexican film industry. A fine croup of actors and cinematographers are being held back however by the problem familiar to Ireland's indigenous film scene. The problem, as always, is money. The Mexican National Cinema Institute has $7m a year to spend supporting Mexican films which cost around a fifth of that each. Considering the proximity of Los Angeles, last year 10% of Mexico's cinema fare was produced locally. The success of 'Amor Es Perro', 'Y Tu Mama Tambien' and 'El Crimen de Padre Amaro' steeled the resolve of producers but unfortunately the number films made locally is now in sharp decline with little more than ten feature films produced in Mexico in 2003.

Mark Godfrey

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