Controversial Mexican Drama Premieres at Smith Opera House – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
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Controversial Mexican Drama Premieres at Smith Opera House

The story line may be 127 years old, but “El Crimen del Padre Amaro” (“The Crime of Father Amaro”) premiering in Geneva at the Smith Opera House on Jan. 30 couldn't be more timely in its despairing vision of corruption within the Catholic establishment.

Based on an 1875 Portuguese novel by José Maria Eça de Queirós, this vivid Mexican update focuses on a young priest/old priest relationship that reveals how difficult it is for any generation to stick to celibacy vows. The older man, Father Benito, has a live-in lover and figures he will go to hell for it, though he also believes that “hell is loneliness.”

The younger man, Father Amaro, tries to resist, but quickly succumbs to an infatuated teenager who leaves her boyfriend to sleep with him. When Benito tries to discipline Amaro for giving in to temptation, the younger priest calls him on his hypocrisy and resorts to mild blackmail.

Still, the filmmakers clearly regard the men's sexual transgressions as much less serious than the older priest's deal with a ruthless drug lord to create a health clinic. Benito claims that his actions are turning bad money into good, he ignores the lethal consequences of his actions, and eventually Amaro is recruited to cover up and continue the operation.

The crisis reaches an ironic climax when the only morally uncompromised priest, Father Natalio, is excommunicated for siding with the peasants against the drug lords and against the church hierarchy. Amaro tells Natalio how much he admires him, yet rather than join him and work with the peasants outside the church, he becomes increasingly bitter and hypocritical.

The 20-something priest, Father Amaro, is played by Gael García Bernal,whose prize-winning performances in “Amores perros” and “Y tu mamá también” have made him Mexico's most exportable movie star. While he emphasizes Amaro's altruistic impulses, he isn't afraid of making him seem somewhat Machiavellian. Sancho Gracia's Benito is equally complex and compromised.

The film has been selected as Mexico's entry for best foreign language film at next year's Oscars.

“El Crimen del Padre Amaro” will be screened January 30 and 31 and February 1 and 2. Showtimes are 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday. It has a running time of 2 hours. In Spanish with English subtitles. Rated R for sexuality, language and some disturbing images. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens. All seats on Thursday are $3.

The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. Call 315-781-LIVE or toll-free 1-866-355 LIVE for additional information. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.

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