Rated R, 2002
Spanish (with English Subtitles)
There are many things wrong with this movie. First of all, things are too clean for a poor town in Mexico. The streets are swept and even the rusted out vehicles look like they’ve been recently detailed. Secondly, there are way too many characters and subplots. And finally, Padre Amaro and Ruben look way too much alike and was confusing at the beginning. Yet I still liked the movie. It would be a great film to watch with others and then, over drinks, discuss afterwards. This movie was controversial and the Catholic Church disapproved of it. They have a point, it does show priest in less than flattering light. Although I’m sure there priest like these portrayed in the movie, they are exceptions. And as the movie shows, even “fallen priests” sometimes do good.
The Crime of Padre Amaro is about a newly ordained priest sent to a Mexican village to assist Padre Benito, an older priest with great ambitions of helping his people by building a hospital. Once in the village, he learns that Benito is sleeping with a woman whose husband has left her and that he's recieving money from drug lords in order to finance his hospital. Amaro soon has his own battles. The young and seductive Amelia, who’s just broken up with Ruben, falls for Amaro. Soon Amelia is pregnant with the priest’s baby, but after a blotched abortion, Amelia dies and because word gets around that Ruben was the father of Amelia’s child, Amaro reputation is saved.
This movie has a lot of potential, but is compromised by the number of subplots. One minor character, Padre Natilo, works in a small village with the extreme poor. He’s accused of harboring guerrillas. He defends himself saying there are no guerrillas, only peasants trying to defend themselves from drug lords forcing them to grow poppies. When the bishop tries to move Natilo, he refuses and is excommunicated, a sentence he accepts as his cross to bear in order to stay working with the people for whom he obviously cares. Natilo is both the most moral character in the movie and the one banished from the church. Beniito has obvious concern for the people of his village but compromises himself by his affair and by receiving drug money. Even the drug lord has a spark of compassion. He provides an airplane to fly Padre Benito to Mexico City after he has a heart attack. The movie shows the complexity of good and bad. Things are seldom black and white.
Padre Amaro is also a complex character. Early in the movie he shows concern for the people, especially for a severely handicap daughter of the church’s sexton. But later in the movie, he uses her for his own purposes and to cover his tracks, fires her father, the sexton. He seems heartless at Amelia’s plight, but a spark of compassion again shows as she dies. The director might have done better making two movies. One could deal with issues of celibacy of the priest and illicit love affairs—Father Amaro’s movie. The other could deal with an even larger universal issue, a problem that exist beyond the church, in how we often compromise ourselves in our efforts at doing good. Father Benito, who justified receiving drug money by saying “I always thought you shouldn’t be too picky about money given for good purposes,” could be the star in this film which would examine the old "means justifies the ends" theme.
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