Melodrama with a message, in which corrupt priests manipulate lives in the name of faith. Ambitious, newly ordained Father Amaro (Gael Garcia Bernal), protegé of a powerful bishop (Ernesto Gomez Cruz) and a born heartbreaker, is sent to isolated, small-town Los Reyes, Mexico, to investigate the activities of certain local priests. Amaro recognizes that the church's primary concern should be spiritual, but can't ignore the fact that church policies "black politics," one local officeholder dubs them, after the priests' dark garb inform almost every aspect of secular life, and clerics wield the kind of power that invariably corrupts. The Bishop is particularly concerned about devout but rebellious Father Natalio (Damian Alcazar), who ministers to the area's poorest peasants and is rumored to have forged an alliance with local guerillas to protect his flock from ruthless narcotics barons. The idealistic Amaro is more disturbed by hypocritical Father Benito (Sancho Gracia), who's enmeshed in a longstanding affair with middle-aged restaurateur Augustina Sanjuanera (Angelcia Aragon) and launders money for drug lord Chato Aguilar (Juan Ionacio Aranda) through a church-sponsored hospital project. An article by crusading local reporter Ruben de la Rosa (Andres Montiel) brings both the Father Benito and Father Natalio scandals to the forefront, and Amaro faces his first crisis of conscience: The Bishop charges him with denying Ruben's accusations and pressuring his paper into featuring the rebuttal prominently. Amaro complies, and from this moral lapse it's but a short step to embarking on a passionate affair with pious-but-sensual Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancon), Sanjuanera's virginal 16-year-old daughter. Amaro not only covers their liaisons by claiming he's preparing Ana to enter a convent (they meet in an unused chamber adjoining the bedroom of the sacristan's retarded daughter, to whom Ana is supposed teaching catechism) but enfolds her blasphemously in a robe stitched for the church's Virgin of Guadelupe statue before they make love. Amaro's moral compromises lead him into an ever-deeper ethical quagmire that ends in tragedy. Though based on a 19th-century novel, the movie has the relentless, pulpy momentum of a modern-day telenovela, and its contempt is focused not on faith but on the secular wheeling and dealing of church higher-ups and the way the Church's machinations are wound into every aspect of Mexican life, from politics to social services and even the pre-Christian superstitions that remain a part of rural belief systems. Roundly condemned (though not banned) by Church officials in Mexico, the film became a smash hit probably in part because the public wrangling gave it an enormous publicity boost.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: R
- Review: Melodrama with a message, in which corrupt priests manipulate lives in the name of faith. Ambitious, newly ordained Father Amaro (Gael Garcia Bernal), protegé of a powerful bishop (Ernesto Gomez Cruz) and a born heartbreaker, is sent to isolated, small… (more)