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....
The film's most disconcerting element is its confusing mixture of satire and melodrama. One minute the movie appears to be making nasty fun of Father Amaro and Amelia's affair. The next it is wallowing in their passion as shamelessly as any heavy-breathing Latin American soap opera. As the story accelerates, Father Amaro's troubles multiply along with the lies he is forced to tell, and the movie builds to a strident, intentionally shocking finale that finds the young priest morally bankrupt.
But Father Amaro's spiritual downfall involves very little internal struggle. Although we are supposed to assume that he is a naïve idealist at the beginning of the film, his acquiescence to the corrupt status quo is accompanied by only the faintest protestations. Instead of emerging as a hero with a tragic flaw, he comes across as a fuzzy-minded weakling who is all flaws.
At a certain point Amelia urges Father Amaro to quit the priesthood and leave town with her. He replies that he wants to remain in the church because as a priest he can help others, but we don't see him offering much help to anyone. Terrible things happen in "El Crimen del Padre Amaro," which opens today in Manhattan, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Dallas, but the movie ultimately has no tragic dimension. It's just the lurid portrait of a man who'll do anything to keep his job.