Monday, 28 March 2016

A film review: "El Clan" [2015 Argentina]

Pablo Trapero's films have always been gutsy and raw on the outside, with just the right amount of melancholy to reflect on the complexities of human nature within. His recent drama, "El Clan" [Eng. Title: The Clan] is loosely based on the true story of the Puccio family in Eighties Argentina.

A scene from "El Clan" (2015) Peter Lanzani in "El Clan" (2015)
Guillermo Francella in "El Clan" (2015) Guillermo Francella and others in "El Clan" (2015)

It was the time immediately after the end to dictatorship in Argentina, when Arquímedes Puccio (Guillermo Francella), a retired intelligence officer of the former military junta, ran a lucrative kidnapping-for-ransom enterprise from his own home situated in an affluent neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. To the outside world, he was a stoic and hardworking surfing paraphernalia store owner and a proud family man, with a devoted wife (Lili Popovich), two daughters and three sons.

His was, for all intents and purposes, a model Argentinian family, inspiring a scarred nation trying to emerge from a troubled past. The eldest son, Alejandro (Peter Lanzani), was also a talented rugby player. But behind closed doors, the entire family was privy and sometimes even complicit in Arquímedes's chilling venture, during which kidnapped victims were held and tortured in a room upstairs. Without raising any concerns, perhaps because of their inability to do so, they took turns carrying meals upstairs and tried to drown out the screams by playing loud music. For the wife, it was perhaps just like any other business - a means to support the family.

Arquímedes always seemed to be in control; his calm demeanour convincingly masking the menacing ruthlessness with which he went about his work. After collecting the ransom money, the victims were killed in cold blood and their bodies disposed off. It's as if he never wanted to stop what he was doing during the military regime. And he had people protecting him - erstwhile colleagues, still working in the establishment. His house of cards will nevertheless come crashing down when the rules of the game change following a change in circumstances...

Trapero had made yet another gripping thriller with panache and is ably assisted by the main actors, particularly Guillermo Francella who plays Arquímedes Puccio, the head of the Clan, with great conviction. With impressive cinematography and crisp editing, the film oozes class. However, if I have to nitpick, I find that the screenplay had failed to answer some important questions concerning the motive behind Arquímedes's crimes, the backstory for authorities initially turning a blind eye towards them, and also why his family, with otherwise impeccable values, would tolerate what was going on.

For Argentinians perhaps, the story of the Puccio family is legend, and they may not need help with these questions, but as a foreigner, a few puzzles remain after watching the film. Thankfully, Trapero had set about discussing something more than just the story, like moral dilemmas, family loyalties, and such - so there is value in the film despite the screenplay shortcomings. The film won a Goya for best Iberoamerican motion picture, and a Silver Lion at Venice for best direction - well deserved, and reasons enough to make it Highly Recommended Viewing..! Link [DVD + Blu-ray]


The Nudity: Stefanía Koessl
There's very brief nudity from Stefanía Koessl who play's Alejandro's (entirely innocent) love interest, Mónica. They make out in the car in this darkly lit scene, and her screams of pleasure is inter-cut with screams of a different kind from the Puccio household.

Stefanía Koessl in Pablo Trapero's "El Clan" (2015)


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