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The Crime of Padre Amaro

Assigned to a small rural town in Mexico, Padre Amaro (Gael Garcia Bernal) is still something of an innocent. With his boyish good looks and his melting smile, he doesn't realize the effect he's having on church helper Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancon); her boyfriend wants to marry her, but she finds herself drawn to Amaro. Meanwhile, he's slow to recognize the corruption around him: His supervisor at the church, Padre Benito (Sancho Gracia), not only has an ongoing affair with a woman (Angelica Aragon) who owns a nearby restaurant, but Benito also accepts money from drug dealers in order to fund a children's clinic being built nearby. Such confuses young Amaro — it seems the local bishop likes Benito but frowns on fellow Padre Natalio (Damian Alcazar), who actually is working for the people but also seems to be supporting guerrillas. However, as he begins to understand the day-to-day realities of being a priest, Amaro also realizes that Amelia is drawn to him, and that he has to deal with his own feelings as a normal man. Though often controversial, priests as characters in cinema are fascinating because they deal with absolutes. There are some great films made about them, ranging from comedies (Peter Sellers in Heavens Above!) to dramas (Jean Paul Belmondo in Leon Morin Priest), although pictures that confront the fallibility of priests always get the negative attention. It's easy to see why some were a bit outraged by the success of 2002's El Crimen del Padre Amaro ("The Crime of Padre Amaro") — the film deals with Amaro breaking religious taboos (the "crime" of the title). But this controversy may be why the film became one of the most successful Mexican movies made. It seems that director Carlos Carrera wanted to address the controversy directly, noting at the film's outset that it's based on an 1875 novel by Eça de Queirós. Were the film were a contemporary critique of the Catholic Church and nothing more, it might not be very interesting. Instead, as a melodrama it plays more as a parable on morality. All of this rests on the shoulders of Gael Garcia Bernal, and it is the strength of Bernal's performance (he's best known as being one of the kids in Y Tu Mamá También) that carries the film. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of The Crime of Padre Amaro presents a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in both Spanish and English. Extras include a commentary by director Carlos Carrera and Gael Garcia Bernal, a featurette (5 min.), a poster gallery, and trailers. Keep-case.

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