Sex, abortion, money laundering, blackmail, violence, political corruption, deflowering saintly virgins — the only skeleton remaining in this clerical closet, it seems, is pedophilia. Anyone looking for a screen exposé of the Catholic Church to underscore the current sexual-abuse scandal will be disappointed by this film from veteran director Carlos Carrera, but those seeking an absorbing (if melodramatic) and beautifully shot story that nonetheless indicts the Church for its ambition and hypocrisy will be rewarded.
The movie is breaking box-office records in Mexico previously set by Y tu mamá también, which also starred Gael García Bernal. This time around Bernal is much less animated and sexy as a buttoned-down priest who arrives in a rural parish. The richness of the story is that it subtly discloses Amaro’s naked ambition rather than the expected idealism. He doesn’t seem too fazed when his boss, Father Benito (Sancho Gracia), cavorts with druglords in order to finance a hospital. Neither is he above putting the squeeze, at the behest of the diocese bishop, on the local newspaper editor who publishes a damning story about the corrupt priest.
The film does its best work in conveying the everyday political and social power the Church wields in Mexico’s provinces. It falls into a few soap-opera conventions when it depicts the romance between Father Amaro and Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón), the ravishing teen who teaches kids at the church — their tempestuous courtship seems more plot- than character-driven. But Carrera makes the compelling case that these men of the cloth are part of an old and corrupt institution that rewards ambition, despite what it does to the soul. In Spanish with English subtitles. (88 minutes)