Mexican Theater continues to impress

Hooray for the phenomenal, revolutionary new cinema from Mexico!
With the arrival of three incredible films, our dearest friends and
neighbors to the south have hit filmmaking paydirt, challenging the
conventions of the cinema art form with wit, sarcasm and a twisted
spirituality.
Hooray for the phenomenal, revolutionary new cinema from Mexico! With the arrival of three incredible films, our dearest friends and neighbors to the south have hit filmmaking paydirt, challenging the conventions of the cinema art form with wit, sarcasm and a twisted spirituality.

Two years ago, we were treated to the violent and amazing “Amores Perros,” which explores the metropolis of Mexico City, complete with the poverty, greed and contradictions. It was followed by the brilliant “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” a simple, sexy road picture that nonetheless explores some of the pressing concerns of Mexicans, that of political control, capitalism and poverty.

Nothing could have prepared us for the arrival of the surreal and confrontational “The Crime of Father Amaro,” the third in a series of important Mexian movies. Based on the sensational novel by Jose Maria Eca de Queiroz, “The Crime of Father Amaro” explores the hypocrisy of the Catholic church and, by doing so, is fiercely controversial. The film has been condemned by the Catholic Church, probably because so many of its claims hit their mark directly.

“The Crime of Father Amaro” tells the story of a young, idealistic priest fresh out of school who heads out to the Mexican town of Los Reyes to join the local parish. He hopes to take over for the soon-to-be-retired Father Benito (Sancho Gracia) as head of the church.

Along the way, Father Amaro is clued into the ways of the town. Riding a bus with some other passengers, the bus is hijacked and robbed by some local thugs with guns.

Upon finally making his way to the church, Amaro finds out that the men who robbed the bus actually run the town in sinister, violent ways. The beaurocracy of the church and bishops who run it have effectively become pawns in the game of local Mexican gangsters. Amaro announces that this will change while he’s on watch, but he soon gets sucked into similar transgressions of faith, sexual misconduct and greed.

The ways of the town are too much for Father Amaro to bear, and they test his moral foundations he learned while becoming a priest.

The first one is celibacy, as a sexy, young, 16-year-old girl named Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancon) befriends Amaro and then strives to seduce him. He gives into his lust and is distraught. He is then told by Amelia that the other clerics too have their sexual secrets to keep, and that Father Benito (Sancho Gracia) is actually engaged in an illicit affair with her mother, Sanjuanera (Angelica Aragon).

When Amaro asks his older confidant about his long-term affair, Father Benito scolds him and says his relationship is much more acceptable than the indiscretion of the younger Amaro. Soon, after more criticisms of the politics of his new church, Father Amaro is threatened with excommunication if he doesn’t behave.

“The Crime of Father Amaro” is a brave and shocking film that dares to go where other films don’t. It explores issues of money, power, corruption and sexuality in the church, issues rarely looked at with an objective eye, minus the sensationalism we’ve seen in the news recently. The film has set box-office records and is a sensation in its native Mexico, and the film should find a popular niche here as well.

THE CRIME OF FATHER AMARO (EL CRIMEN DEL PADRE AMORO). Directed by Carlos Carrera. Written by Vicente Lenero, from the novel by Jose Maria Eca de Queiroz. With Gael Garcia Bernal, Sancho Gracia, Ana Claudia Talancon, Angelica Aragon and Ernesto Gomez Cruz. Rated R (violence, sexuality, nudity, language), 120 minutes. Now playing at select Bay Area theaters.

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