Samuel GoldywnFilms has acquired North American rights to Mexican priest-scandal drama TheCrime Of Father Amaro (ElCrimen Del Padre Amaro),which has already been a controversy-fueled smash hit in its home country. The film is slated for US release in late 2002.

The $1.8m dramabroke weekend opening records in Mexico after it debuted on Friday, August 16.Out on nearly 400 screens across the country, it grossed 31m pesos ($3.1m)after three days. Padre Amaro has nearly tripled the previous record set by an equallycontroversial film Y Tu Mama Tambien which opened in June last year and grossed 11.9m pesos($1.3m) its first weekend.

Directed byCarlos Carrera (a Palme D'Or winner in Cannes with his short film The Hero) and starring Mexico's most prominentactor Gael Garcia Bernal (Amores Perros, Y Tu Mama Tambien and the upcoming Motorcycle Diaries), Padre Amaro has provoked phenomenal media coverageas a result of strident protests by catholic and ultra rightwing groups.

Adapted from the1875 novel by Portuguese author Jose Maria Eca de Queiroz, the story centres ona scandal about a young priest, played by Bernal, who journeys to a remoteprovincial town, where he has an affair with a young woman who then has anabortion. Scenes considered objectionable include one where Padre Amaro placesthe Virgin Mary's veil over the woman before making love to her and anotherwhen a cat eats a communion host. The cast includes Ana Claudia Talancon,Damian Alcazar, Angelica Aragon and Sancho Gracia.

The outrage fromsome quarters in Mexico has only served to heighten its awareness. Local distributorColumbia TriStar Mexico is expecting it to open across rather more screens, as cinemaskeeping asking for prints. Padre Amaro now ranks as the sixth largest weekend opening ever after Spiderman(83m pesos), Dinosaur (38m), Godzilla (33.8m), Harry Potter (33.8m), Ice Age (32.8m) and Men in Black II (32.3m), all of which went out on aconsiderably greater number of screens. Men in Black II, for example, went out on 661 screensand Spiderman on1,100 screens.

Meyer Gottlieb, who is president of Samuel Goldwyn Films,and Daniel Birman Ripstein, the film's producer, negotiated the NorthAmerican deal.

"We are honoured to be associated with thisfilm," said Gottlieb today, confirming the acquisition. "It is atimely and bold story, representing the best in Mexican filmmaking."

Daniel BirmanRipstein said: "We are very happy with the success of the film here inMexico, and we are sure Samuel Goldwyn Films will do an excellent job in NorthAmerica."

The film wasproduced by Alameda Films in association with Wanda Vision (Spain), Art Cam(France), Cinecolor (Argentina), Blu Films (Mexico), and the Mexican FilmInstitute (IMCINE). Alfredo Ripstein and Daniel Birman, the father and nephewof Mexican director Arturo Ripstein respectively, served as producers. ColumbiaTriStar has a first-look at rest of the world on the film, with the exceptionof Spain, which is controlled by co-producer Wanda.

Other upcomingreleases from Samuel Goldwyn include the family film, Little Secrets; the psychological thriller, DasExperiment; and TheMan From Elysian Fields(with Fireworks Pictures).