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28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 12/20/02 BOOKS & THE CULTURE El Crinten del Padre Amaro Directed by Carlos Carrera n the eve of the Mexico 0 City premier of El Crimen del Padre Amaro, a highly indignant priest named Julian Martinez bared his soul to the national press. “I’ve told people thousands of times not to go see it,” he declared to the daily newspaper Reforma. “I hope there’s a Church-led boycott. I don’t take a shit in the street, but if I did, everybody would protest. These people are shitting in the street, speaking foul and dirty language.” The film that so provoked Father Julian tells the story of a young priest, Padre Amaro, who falls in love with a young female parishioner. Loosely based on a nineteenth-century novel about religious hypocrisy written by the Portuguese author and diplomat Eca de Queiroz, the film was directed by Carlos Carrerawho also created Vicente Fox’s television campaign in the 2000 presidential race. Vicente Lefler \(a highly respected novelist and playwright whose screenwriting credits include La Ley de Herodes over-the-top spoof of political corrupcharactersand with liberal borrowings from contemporary Mexican historythey have made a movie that skewers the Church’s positions on sensuality, politics, and censorship. Overt anti-clericalism is nothing new among Mexico’s cultural elite, but Padre Amaro is a definite departure, providing a gritty portrayal of priests involved in drug running, participating in social protest, fornicating with female parishioners, and paying for an abortion. \(In the film’s lighter, more satirical moments, a religious mystic feeds the host to her cat; another scene features young children gleefully feeding on cajeta-smeared communion -In years past, the Church managed to kill a television soap opera featuring a love story with a priest. It pressured a major corporation to pull its advertising from a broadcast program investigating sexual abuse allegations involving Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ. And it ensured that Martin Scorcese’s controversial Last Temptation of Christ never opened in Mexico. This time around the hierarchy tried to shame the Fox government for allowing the Mexican movie. It threatened to excommunicate Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays Amaro, and Ana Claudia TalancOn, who plays his lover, Amelia. The anti-abortion group, Pro Vida, filed suit against several government officials, including Interior Minister Santiago Creel. Meanwhile, another member of the Fox Cabinetthe arch-conservative Labor Minister Carlos Abascaljoined Father Martinez in calling for a boycott.\(Eighteen months ago Abascal cried blasphemy and had a teacher fired from his daughter’s private school for teaching Carlos Fuentes’ novel The uproar caused the movie’s premier to be postponed until after the Pope visited Mexico last Julybut was not sufficient to postpone it indefinitely. Padre Amaro opened last August to immediate box-office success.The lowbudget production \(less than two miling domestic film in Mexican history; El Crimea del Padre Amaro is Mexico’s Oscar candidate for Best Foreign Film. The film begins modestly enough with Amaro, fresh from the seminary, sitting on a bus headed into provincial Mexico. Suddenly, the bus is held up at gunpoint and the passengers are robbed. The man sitting next to the priest had just sold his land and was about to move to town to enter into business with his son; now he’s lost all his life savings. When the bus finally reaches the next town,Amaro arises and hands the man a roll of bills to help him on his way. As he begins his tenure in the small yet influential parish Amaro seems to be an idealist. But through his growing involvement in community life, he starts to take advantage of his priestly position. When a muckraking journalist exposes two parish priests for dubious relationships with a drug kingpin and left-wing guerrillas, the bishop asks Amaro to engage in spin control. The younger priest carries out his assignment and protects the Church’s integrity by forcing the newspaper to fire the reporter. Soon, however, he himself becomes mired in turmoil; he breaks Sins of the Father BY PATRICK TIMMONS