Movie review: El Clan
The true story of Argentina’s infamous Puccio family hits the big screen with a bloodsplatter and a killer soundtrack, making for a seductively distracting descent into Hell
Starring: Guillermi Francella, Peter Lanzani, Lili Popovich, Giselle Motta
Directed by: Pablo Trapero
Running time: 1h 48m
In Spanish with English subtitles
By Katherine Monk
Glib is the word. Glib is the word that you heard. It’s got groove, it’s got meaning. And it perfectly describes The Clan.
Based on the real life story of the Puccios, a seemingly ordinary family from Buenos Aires, The Clan is essentially ripped from the yellowing headlines of the 1980s, back when Argentina was battling Great Britain for control of the Falkland Islands and the military government was in the midst of a “National Reorganization Process” that had a tendency of making people disappear.
The war between the haves and have-nots turned on who you knew, and who you knew would rat you out. For patriarch Arquimedes Puccio (Guillermo Francella), it’s a chess game with many disposable pawns and a black and white board. Either you are on his side and you are family, or you are an enemy to be eliminated.
You can see it in his quasi-psychotic expression and cold, calculating blue eyes. You’d think he’d spent time in Hitler’s bunker before the borscht hit the fan. But this is a movie fastened to its period through a hypnotic, toe-tapping, finger-snapping soundtrack that conjures greasy memories of disco, acoustic soul and a burgeoning awareness of neon and neoprene.
Adopting a Quentin Tarantino brand of sonic seduction, director-writer Pablo Trapero sucks us into an ugly world of violence through our eardrums. It’s an uncomfortable experience designed to make us watch, and to some degree, make us complicit in the inevitably grotesque denouement. For Tarantino, it’s usually just an excuse to show brains explode in slow-motion to The Beach Boys. But for Trapero, it’s the whole ball of wax.
This is the story of one family that somehow overlooked basic morality. One minute you see them eating breakfast together as a family, and the next, someone is walking nonchalantly past a half-open door where someone is bound and gagged.
For viewers in Argentina, the whole story is already familiar, but for those of us who didn’t learn about the Puccios during the acid-wash era, the story of Arquimedes’s rise and fall as a prolific kidnapper and extortionist begins after he loses his job with the secret service.
He needs money, and he’s willing to do anything to get it. Not that we see any of the mental conflict on his face. He’s a stone, the “banal face of evil” that sleeps on a cot in the basement while his prisoner screams, then gets up and sweeps the front stoop.
Alejandro (Peter Lanzani) is the one who bears the burden of doubt. He doesn’t realize exactly what’s happening until it’s too late. The fall begins from the moment we enter the drama, and it doesn’t end until the final credits roll.
Trapero makes the most of the brief moment of weightlessness, throwing us into the air where no boundaries exist and morality feels suspended—as are all crimes validated by consensus—but it’s hard to watch all the same.
The dark scenarios feel too repetitive and the characters too passive – a criticism were it not all true, and all too human. The soundtrack certainly helps keep our interest, but like the constant music that drowns out the screams in the basement of the Puccio home, it cheapens the suffering with irony.
By the same token, when the plot is a real-life smash-up derby of dented vehicles from the scrapyard of humanity, there isn’t much to do except grab a bag of peanuts, crank up the tunes and wait for the carnage.
The Clan is now playing in select cities.
THE EX-PRESS, April 13, 2016