By Mark Betancourt
Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
Gael Garcia Bernal stars in, "El Crimen del Padre Amaro."
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday December 5, 2002
It is a common misconception among Americans that films in any foreign language must be good. And if we don't like them, it's because we just don't understand them.
Americans also have short attention spans, which would explain why Mexico's new "El Crimen del Padre Amaro," or, in English, "The Crime of Father Amaro," is so boring here.
OK, not that it's boring. It's just that the guy doing the subtitles wasn't very romantic. If someone says, "How's it going?" in Spanish, the subtitle says, "Hello." So, in a sense, we've been gypped out of the film's true essence.
This is the story of a young Catholic priest named Father Amaro (Gael Garcia Bernal) who travels to the little town of Los Reyes in his native Mexico, his head full of priestly ambition and a precocious aptitude for his vocation. What he finds are corrupt priests ÷ or so the Church would deem them.
Everything from fornication to guerrilla warfare offends his young devoted conscience (none of which we actually get to see ÷ unfortunately, it's all just mentioned in passing), and the young man becomes confused. His loyalty to the Church guides him, though, and for the first half of the movie things seem to be going OK.
Then the real problem comes in. Father Amaro starts sleeping with this very young girl. While things don't actually get very interesting, in a relative sense, this is where things get interesting. Of course, after they've really been going at it for a while, our priest suddenly has a big decision to make.
Now hold on, a little back story is in order. The film is based on a book written in 1875 by a Portuguese author named EŤa de Quier—s. The book is a stinging satire of one of the most influential organizations in the world. Father Amaro's devotion to the Catholic Church ends up making a huge mess, because the whole point is that the Church is about itself and not about the people. This is as true now as it was 127 years ago. At least, that's the point of the story. This idea comes across pretty well in the movie. It's all in there. All the motivations are there. The characters are at least sufficiently developed for us to understand why they cry or laugh or walk over there. It's even in a foreign language. But it's boring.
This could be because a story about the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church isn't exactly news. Or maybe one has to have a Catholic appreciation for guilt to really relate to Father Amaro.
The book seems to have been not only about the Church, but about morality, human weakness, and the frailty of human relationships. The film, well, it seems like a bunch of actors moving around a set pretending to be human.
There doesn't seem to be a satisfactory explanation for this. The film's just bland, the dialogue is flat, the colors are weak, the minor characters are over-stereotyped. What does any of that mean, though? What's really missing? All you can say is that, by the end of the film, you're left hungry for something more substantial. El hambre viene, el hombre se va.