A review of The Crime of Padre Amaro directed by Carlos Carrera based on the novel by Eça de Queiróz.
''El Crimen del Padre Amaro,'' a suds-filled political melodrama that bashes the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico with a contempt that verges on hysteria, could be accused of many things, but timidity is not one of them. The film, an updated adaptation of a late 19th-century novel by the Portuguese author José Maria Eça de Queiroz, tells the story of Father Amaro (Gael García Bernal), a dreamy-eyed 24-year-old cleric dispatched to a small parish church in Los Reyes to assist its aging priest, Father Benito (Sancho Gracia). If Father Amaro proves a cooperative partner, it is a given that he will one day take over the parish.
Arriving in town, Father Amaro hasn't the foggiest inkling of the political rats' nest that's about to consume him. As played by Mr. Bernal, who has become an international star with ''Amores Perros'' and ''Y Tu Mamá También,'' the young priest projects the dewy naïveté of a Robby Benson character from the 1970's. Mr. Bernal's physical resemblance to that former icon of milk-and-cookies wholesomeness is so pronounced that you half expect the movie to turn into ''Ice Castles'' or ''Ode to Billy Joe,'' but of course it doesn't.
What Father Amaro discovers is a corrupt church bureaucracy collaborating with local drug lords who donate huge sums of money to favorite church charities. In return the church hierarchy turns a blind eye to their activities, which include the violent appropriation of land occupied by poor rural farmers. Any priest who seriously dissents from the bishop's party line risks excommunication.
With one heroic exception the procession of church officials parading through the film are an unsavory lot who justify their money laundering by smugly pointing to the good works to which the funds are applied. Running the diocese is an obese, porcine-eyed bishop (Ernesto Gómez Cruz), whom the movie views with a palpable physical loathing.
The scandalous nature of ''El Crimen del Padre Amaro,'' directed by Carlos Carrera from a screenplay by Vicente Leñero, has helped make it the highest-grossing home-grown film in Mexican history. But what probably accounts for its popularity isn't its indictment of money laundering and conspiracy but its prurient, nostril-flaring portrait of a handsome young clergyman violating his vows of celibacy.
You can find the review here