Directed by Carlos Carrera, starring Gael García Bernal, Sancho Gracia, Ana Claudia Talancón, Angélica Aragón, Luisa Huertas and Damián Alcázar.
Something of a cause célèbre upon its release in Mexico last year, 'El Crimen del Padre Amaro' arrives on the back of the type of hype that – more often than not – turns out to be a storm in a teacup. Denounced by the Vatican as a 'frontal attack' on the Church, and attacked as 'anti-Catholic' and 'blasphemous' in certain conservative quarters, 'El Crimen…' not surprisingly has gone on to become the highest-grossing film of all time in its homeland. After all, in every society people love controversy.
And yet there isn't a whole lot to get hot and bothered about here. Perhaps it's the degree to which Ireland has been rocked by Church scandals, but either way clerical disgrace is hardly novel. Well, at least outside Mexico.
Based on an 1875 Portuguese novel but updated to present day Mexico, the film follows the trials of recently ordained priest Amaro (Bernal). Dispatched by the bishop to help Father Benito (Gracia) in the town of Los Reyes, Amaro immediately becomes the focal point for the lustful attentions of teenager Amelia (Talancón). He initially fights the urges but it's hard to resist. So he doesn't.
But this illicit love affair is just one narrative strand in the film. One subplot concerns a similarly clandestine coupling: that of Father Benito and Amelia's mother Sanjuanera (Aragón). Another frames the activities of rebel priest Fr Natalio (Alcázar), who rejects large chunks of the Catholic doctrine and who lives among the guerrilla peasants in the mountains.
The potential in the material is patently obvious, but in director Carlos Carrera's hands, the whole thing is markedly flat and detached. The pacing is the film's greatest drawback. Carrera seems to have no idea how long to dwell on key aspects of the story and you end up wanting more of some scenes, and far, far less of certain others.
The cast, made up of the old hats and new kids of Mexican cinema, does a fine job, although it's hard not to escape the thought that Bernal is simply miscast. His performance itself – a keen edge of vulnerability and a hint of Machiavellian menace – is fine, but the actor simply looks too young for the role. Elsewhere, Talancón has the natural endowments to convince as a Lolita-lite temptress, while veteran Gracia is a compelling combination of lust, confusion, guilt and shame.
Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church doesn’t come out of this with much reason to pat itself on the back. There are no happy endings here, no epiphanies or positive answers. But with material as rich as this, film fans will be forgiven for expecting more.