Petty Crime

Mexican tale of a naughty priest isn't so scandalous here.


directed by Carlos Carrera opens Nov. 22 at Harvard Exit

IN THIS SMASH Mexican film (which translates as The Crime of Father Amaro), Amaro is Gael Garc???Bernal, the Belmondo-esque buddy from Y Tu Mam᠔ambi鮼/I>. This is no Y Tu Mam᠔ambi鮼/I>. It's a criminal waste of talent. The crime in question is young priest Amaro's response to Amelia (soap opera starlet Ana Claudia Talanc� a fetching teenage member of his rural flock, who complains in the confessional that when she thinks of Jesus, she touches herself. Soon she's touching Amaro through the confessional screen, then in a secret love nest.

Amaro's superior, Father Benito, is outraged—even though he's been shtupping on the sly for decades with Amelia's mom. Benito is also taking big dinero from the region's drug lord to build his religious empire. Amelia's reporter ex pens an expos頯f the corruption. The church cynically retaliates against all truth tellers (like that would ever happen!).

The moralistic melodrama, taken from an 1875 Portuguese novel, sounds like a mere genre flick—Bad Lieutenant Priest—but to grasp its massive impact in Mexico, you have to imagine a culture that reveres Catholicism and a film culture that hasn't yet reduced evil clerics to a soulless clich鮠To shock Americans, you need to show Harvey Keitel masturbating while forcing teenage strangers to show their breasts; Mexicans went gaga at the sight of a sincerely romantic teen fornicatrix donning Mary's blue robe as foreplay.

Director Carlos Carrera, who has no eye for framing a shot nor rhythm in the editing room, does manage to convey a vivid sense of place peopled with pulpy locals. The upshot is painfully foreordained, but the film does have some sudsy charm even for those immune to its south-of-the-border shock value.

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