When I first reviewed The Crime of Padre Amaro in 2002, I noted that despite the ballyhoo calling it “one of the most controversial films ever made,” the movie itself was a kind of weird mix of fairly lightweight Buñuelian anti-Catholicism and high-grade Mexican soap opera. Nothing really changes that assessment upon revisiting the movie, but in the intervening years our perceptions of both Mexican and Spanish cinema has been broadened and its young star, Gael García Bernal (known then almost entirely for his breakout role in the previous year’s Y Tu Mamá También), has become one of our finest and most daring actors, seen in films like Walter Salles’ Motorcycle Diaries (2004), Almodóvar’s Bad Education (2004) and Michel Gondry’s Science of Sleep (2006).
Looked at in terms of 2007, the movie takes on added interest, especially in consideration of the fact that its director, Carlos Carrera, has yet to make the leap to world-class filmmaker in the manner of Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro or Alejandro González Iñárritu. I think this may stem from the simple fact that Padre Amaro wasn’t as controversial as it wanted to be. It’s too insular, and Carrera didn’t amp up the soap aspects of the film in the manner of Almodóvar. Rather than being in explosive “bad taste,” it’s too tentative, too much a straightforward Mexican soap opera. It is, however, still a good soap opera, and it’s now fascinating to see Gael García Bernal in one of his earlier, non-iconic roles, to see his evolution as an actor.