Like Father, Like Hell

Mexican priests make it hurt so good

Dec 11, 2002 at 4:00 am
Christ is sexy. There, got your attention. But honestly, think about it: nice guy, pretty hair, carpentry skills, puts loaves (and fishes) on the table -- plus all that doing-miracles and rising-from-the-dead and being-the-Son-of-God business. Heck, he'd be a prime catch for any guy or gal.

It is the essential sexiness of the holy archetypes that stirs up a ruckus in El Crimen del Padre Amaro, adapted by screenwriter Vicente Leñero from the 1875 book by Portuguese author José Maria Eça de Queiroz. We first meet our present-day protagonist, Padre Amaro (Mexican superstar Gael García Bernal, of Amores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También), on a coach ride through the Mexican countryside. Though only 24, the priest shows great patience when the bus is raided -- almost as a matter of course -- by armed banditos, and he illustrates deep compassion by giving his money to an elderly fellow picked clean by the robbers.

Before Amaro even sets foot in the little town of Los Reyes, his benevolence is confirmed, but he finds that the local clergy aren't exactly prone to sitting around together contemplating the divine; rather, they've created their own specific sacraments. First to greet Amaro is aging Father Benito (Sancho Gracia), who has been worshiping secretly at the proverbial altar of his housekeeper, Sanjuanera (Angélica Aragón), for time out of mind. There's also wild man Father Natalio (Damián Alcázar), whose rugged mountainside parish shelters outlaws and conceals any number of dirty deeds, leading to the thorough disgruntlement of the region's corpulent bishop (Ernesto Gómez Cruz). Despite Amaro's high hopes, he can't help noticing a little dirt on the local men of the cloth.

Those elements alone could be the makings of a nice little Western, but the crux of the movie -- and de Queiroz's still-relevant story -- is that Amaro, sworn by his profession to celibacy -- is inflamed with passion. Despite his pure desire to sow the seeds of love, Amaro has a wide world of wild oats to cultivate as well.

The catalyst for both the plot and the young priest's difficult meditation on faith and flesh is pretty little sixteen-year-old Amelia (22-year-old Ana Claudia Talancón). Although she has a beau in coarse, uppity journalist Rubén (Andrés Montiel), Amelia is too turned on by her religion to avoid relishing hottie Amaro conducting Mass beneath the dangling Messiah. Because the quickest way to a man's heart is sometimes through his erectile tissue, she invites Amaro's advances by way of the confessional, where she daintily reveals her practice of touching herself to thoughts of Jesus.

Director Carlos Carrera (Un Embrujo) employs very little stylistic gloss to tell his purposefully inflammatory story, instead relying on the innate gifts of his talented cast. Bernal is ideal as Amaro, displaying great skill in mixing up his selfish interests with those of his station, and Talancón executes a thoroughly convincing turn, mingling youthful desire, spirituality and confusion. The story may seem obvious for some, but the actors deliver it with mucho gusto.