Go on, admit it. When you see the title The Crime of Father Amaro (opens Friday, March 28, at the Little), you automatically assume it's a film about a priest buggering young boys, don't you? Well, it's not.
We first see the recently ordained Father Amaro (Gael García Bernal) as he rides a bus to his first priestly assignment in the tiny Mexican town of Los Reyes. It is immediately established that the 24-year-old is a good guy, but even the most jaded man of the cloth would be shocked upon arrival in Los Reyes --- it's like a south-of-the-border Melrose Place.
Amaro's retiring boss, Father Benito (Sancho Gracia), is not only helping drug dealers launder money in exchange for healthy collection plate kickbacks, he's also nailing a local restaurateur named Augustina (Angélica Aragón) and trying to blackmail another area padre (Damián Alcázar) for aiding guerilla fighters in their war against the powerful drug lords --- all with the Bishop's blessing, mind you. Not to be outdone, Amaro quickly develops feelings for Augustina's 16-year-old daughter, Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón), a hot little tamale who teaches catechism and fantasizes about Jesus when she masturbates in her bedroom. Oh, and Amelia might be Benito's daughter, too.
I think it's hysterical that the Catholic League is a hundred times more upset about the love angle in the film than the thread depicting the Los Reyes religious community as corrupt conspirators in the drug trade. Surely, getting some action is a lesser sin than turning a blind eye to marauding drug dealers. And that might not even be the crime the title suggests Amaro committed (notice it's not plural). Besides, if she thinks he's Jesus, and he's pretending she's Mary, is that really wrong? Well, maybe it is. Especially when Jesus forks over his own money to pay for the BVM's abortion.
While it's debatable whether or not the Church is portrayed in a negative light, Crime in no way suggests that any or all of its priests are inherently evil --- only human. I have a feeling people may be getting worked up over seeing some of the other potentially blasphemous images in Crime, like the crazy old lady feeding her cat the body of Christ, or the mentally retarded girl who carefully listens to the grunts and groans of Amaro and Amelia defrocking each other's lights out in the next room.
Crime, which is adapted from 19th-century Portuguese novelist Eça de Queirós first book, is the kind of film you probably never would have heard of if it weren't for the supposed controversy. It's not that exciting a ride, but it is another chance to catch Bernal, whose first couple of films (Amores Perros and Y tu mamá también) turned out to be two of Mexico's biggest domestic hits ever. His third film (Crime) finds him in his second Oscar-nominated vehicle.
It makes a lot of sense that Lynne Stopkewich worked as a production designer on fellow Canadian David Cronenberg's Crash before launching her own career as a filmmaker. Stopkewich's first two offerings, though not widely seen or discussed in the US, are a pair of chilling, detached sexual dramas that seem hell-bent on making the audience grimace, cover their eyes, or just plain bolt out of the theater as the films unspool in what feels like slow motion.
In other words, Suspicious River, which Stopkewich is personally screening at the Dryden Theatre the night of March 28, might not be the best first-date flick out there. River re-teams the writer/director with Molly Parker, who starred in Stopkewich's creepy debut festival hit Kissed. In that film, Parker knocked my socks off as a funeral home attendant who liked to get intimate with her customers (the cold, stiff ones), which is pretty interesting since, in River, the tables are completely turned. She's gone from grinding corpses to playing dead while she's being humped.
Parker, who is probably best known outside Canada and the festival circuit as the rabbi on Six Feet Under, plays Leila Murray, the exceedingly bored clerk at a fleabag motel in gloomy Suspicious River, Washington (which, one would imagine, isn't too far from Twin Peaks). Leila is married, but it's obvious her husband excites her about as much as her job does. She's in one of those deep ruts where only something singularly amazing might manage to save her. Since Suspicious River isn't exactly a hotbed of singularly amazing activity, Leila decides to throw a $60 blowjob into her usual turndown service.
Before long, Leila's reputation spreads quicker than her legs and she's makes a lot of money. Instead of treating herself to extravagant treats, Leila squirrels the money away for heaven knows what. We never know why. We never know why because even Leila doesn't know.
Meanwhile, Leila starts to fall for one of her abusive johns (Callum Keith Rennie), and strikes up a friendship with a local girl (Mary Kate Welsh) she meets while eating her lunch down by the smelly river. The two women, who obviously have a lot more in common than either care to admit or comprehend, quietly watch the wholesome white swans frolic, as Leila dreads the day they'll take off for the winter... just like Tony Soprano.
It's pretty obvious River, which was adapted from Laura Kasischke's novel, is going someplace very dark and very bad --- all you can do is sit back and hope you can stomach it. I'm not sure it's the kind of film you're supposed to like or enjoy, but then again, did anyone really enjoy Schindler's List, or Gods and Generals? At least River has the common courtesy not to crack 100 minutes, in addition to offering another uniquely dazzling performance from Parker, in another unnerving tale from Stopkewich.
Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.