Far from Heaven / El Crimen del Padre Amaro

| December 1, 2002

Far From Heaven is a beautiful movie about a rather ugly subject. Right from the opening credits, we’re just struck with the plush Technicolor wonder of the 1950’s. It takes place in late 1957-early 1958 and the period accuracy — except for a Tupperware container in a pivotal scene (it was opaque brick-red, a color that didn’t come out til the mid 70’s)– was spot on. The colors are astounding–you actually notice how the colors were placed in each scene, how each person’s outfit was arranged and planned to go with all the other outfits and the furniture, walls, scenery…lovely.
The Whitaker’s house looks like it was digitally recreated from the pages of vintage Better Homes and Gardens magazines. It’s incredible. The costumes are incredible too. Big, big New Look skirts, lovely dress coats, gloves and hats to match every outfit…you wonder how women moved about in those huge circle skirts, but they look so pretty. There’s an interesting touch in this, too: Throughout the movie, Julianne Moore wears these huge skirts. Until the last scene. Then she wears a narrow pencil-skirt. It’s an interesting touch, and a commentary on what’s happened in the story.
Subtle…but nice.
It’s a cautionary tale about prejudice, of various kinds. The thing to remember about this film is that it’s a fable…”Once upon a time, a long time ago, things were different than they are now.” But if you don’t realize that, you miss quite a bit. This movie parodies and lampoons the 1950’s lifestyle and way of thinking. Some of the lines are almost laughable (the audience I saw the film with did laugh at many of the lines, particularly the ones about drinking), and dutiful wife and mother Kathy’s lines seem especially stilted (it’s almost as though she says “darling” every other sentence) but it works to underscore the point…that was a long time ago, and see how it was then? That could never happen today…
Quite the opposite, El Crimen del Padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro) makes a big point of telling us right at the beginning that this story takes place in the here-and-now of 2002 (although it’s based on a novel written in 1875).
This, too, is a story about prejudice, although of a different sort, and it’s not told with pretty set decorations, but with blood and tears. This is Mexico’s official entry for the Best Foreign Film category in this year’s Oscars, and it certainly deserves the nomination.
Young, just-ordained Padre Amaro comes to the town of Los Reyes, and discovers corruption, dishonesty and love…which of course is a bit of a problem for the young priest. A young parishioner who fantasizes about Jesus while bathing quickly falls in love with him and he quickly falls into the deceit and subterfuge that seems to surround all the supposedly “pious” people of Los Reyes.
The only truly moral and forthright character in the film is the girl’s jilted lover, Ruben, who works for a newspaper. He states up front that if he believes in God, it’s not the one the Church believes in, and, having been raised by an Atheist, I find this a fascinating point of the film. The good people who may or may not go to church and may or may not believe in God try to do right are punished and the upstanding religious people who go to church every Sunday and kowtow to drug lords are rewarded.
There are many parallels drawn between the young priest and the older one who’s charged with his mentorship and the girl and her mother, with whom the older priest has a long-standing affair, justified by his telling her that “the only Hell is loneliness.” As in all cautionary tales, there is no happy ending in either of these films. But they make you think…and they make you reconsider what is good and what is evil.

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