LOS ANGELES, Nov. 1 (JTA) — The American distributor of a Mexican film denounced by Catholic groups has been flooded with protest letters, many with a distinctly anti-Semitic tone. “The Crime of Father Amaro” is based on a 19th-century Portuguese novel, but the film is set in contemporary Mexico. Its protagonist is an ambitious young priest who starts an illicit affair with a young woman, which ends in tragedy. Also shown are issues confronting modern Mexican priests, such as donations received from drug dealers and aid sent to guerilla activities in poor rural areas. Catholic groups say the film depicts the church in an unfair, negative light. A huge success in Mexico, where it was released last summer, “Father Amaro” is being distributed in the United States by Samuel Goldwyn Films. The company’s president, Meyer Gottlieb, told the Los Angeles Times that he is alarmed by the anti-Semitism in many of the protest letters and postcards the company has received. “I am sure you don’t plan on showing rabbis or Jews in a compromising position, but your hatred is vented against the Savior who gave his life to redeem mankind for their sins,” one man from Manchester, Conn., wrote. “What I find offensive is that they are taking the leap that I am only doing this because I am Jewish,” Gottlieb said. “Everyone can have an opinion about a film. But the thing that I object to” is the insinuation that “if I wasn’t Jewish I wouldn’t be releasing this movie, which is of course absurd.” The protest is being organized by a conservative Catholic lay group, American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, known by the initials TFP. The group says its members will picket theaters when the film opens Nov. 15. Through a mass mailing, TFP has asked 80,000 people, especially Latino Catholics, to send protest letters to Goldwyn Films. America Needs Fatimah, a group affiliated with TFP, has promised to mobilize another 250,000 letter writers. Among the objectionable scenes are one in which the priest and the young woman make love under the mantel of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and another in which a cat eats a communion host. Carlos Carrera, the film’s director, defended it as “fictional,” but also told the Times that “all of this behavior seen in the film has happened in reality. None of this is a lie or a part of our imagination.” “Father Amaro” became the highest grossing movie produced in Mexico, despite pressure from Mexican bishops to have the movie banned. □
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Tom Tugend is JTA's Los Angeles correspondent. A veteran journalist, he also writes for the Jerusalem Post, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and the London Jewish Chronicle.