Mark Reviews Movies

The Clan

THE CLAN

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Pablo Trapero

Cast: Guillermo Francella, Peter Lanzani, Lili Popovich, Gastón Cocchiarale, Giselle Motta, Franco Masini, Antonia Bengoechea, Stefanía Koessl

MPAA Rating: R (for violence, language and a scene of sexuality/nudity)

Running Time: 1:50

Release Date: 3/18/16 (limited); 3/25/16 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 24, 2016

The Clan is a shallow examination of the inescapable influence of family—even or especially a family that is engaged in criminal activity. It's based on the true story of the Argentine Puccio family, who took advantage of the political instability in the country following the end of dictatorial rule in the early 1980s. The movie suggests that such a climate, in which power hasn't completely shifted from authoritarian government to democracy, both caused and strengthened the family's actions, although the argument is only a suggestion. Writer/director Pablo Trapero's screenplay only offers context in the form of such sinister but unclear insinuations.

This is mostly a movie about process—the particulars of the crimes, which involve the family and their cohorts kidnapping members of wealthy and/or powerful families for sizeable ransoms, and the ways in which the Puccio patriarch creates a confining environment for the rest of his family. They are prisoners, too, forced to ignore or participate in the father's illegal schemes simply because they have the bad luck of being his wife, his sons, and his daughters. Any questioning of, pushback against, or attempt to escape from Arquímedes Puccio's (Guillermo Francella) "career" is a betrayal in his eyes. He doesn't need to use force against the members of his family to keep them imprisoned, unless one believes a life of inflicting psychological abuse on those closest to a person to be force.

That's another line of thinking that the movie mostly bypasses, once again leaving it all to the suggestion. It's strange, because the movie neither outright condemns a few of these characters (the ones who clearly deserve the condemnation) nor apologizes for the ones who find themselves in a situation beyond their control through no real fault of their own. Trapero seems to be attempting to elicit sympathy for the latter segment of characters, particularly Arquímedes' eldest son Alejandro (Peter Lanzani), but even then, there's a distinct level of distance from those characters' imposed collaboration—either through silence or ignorance.

Trapero is clearly enamored with the peculiarities of this real-life story—how this family (and others like it, which are—once again—only momentarily suggested in a few scenes through dialogue) got away with their actions for as long as they did, how the culture of silence within the family unit was fostered, how Arquímedes' past in the corrupt military under the former dictatorship informed his "work" several years later as a private citizen. It is a peculiar, potentially fascinating story, although it would take a movie that is far more interested in the lives of these people and the political backdrop against which these crimes took place than this one is.

The primary concern here is the events of the case—the plotting, the kidnappings, the ransom negotiations, the captivity, the ultimate betrayal of the agreement between the captors and the families of those who have been taken. As far as we can tell, Arquímedes was involved in the Dirty War orchestrated against political opponents by the government under Jorge Rafael Videla. In 1982, as the government is slowly transitioning to democracy, the now-retired Arquímedes still has contacts within the military, and he begins his kidnappings with the aid of some cohorts and Alejandro.

Alejandro, a professional rugby player with dreams of leaving his homeland, knows what his father is doing and even helps in the abduction of a fellow rugby player. Everything goes according to plan, as the family agrees to pay the ransom. Much to Alejandro's shock, the player's body is found with three gunshot wounds to the head. Arquímedes blames his oldest son for the murder, saying that Alejandro was not convincing enough in his initial subterfuge in luring the player to his abduction.

Everything plays out in a cyclical fashion. There's another plan, another abduction, another senseless murder, and another round of Arquímedes blaming everyone but himself for the killing. The cycle is, perhaps, accurate—not only in the way these events happened but also in terms of the psychological trap of such an enterprise, especially for someone like Alejandro, who sees no way out of it.

He tries. He wants to join a rugby team in another country, but Arquímedes always reminds the family of how another son "betrayed" them by leaving. He meets a woman named Mónica (Stefanía Koessl), with whom he has a whirlwind romance (Trapero awkwardly intercuts their first love-making session with scenes of a captive being tortured and murdered), but that relationship just results in another person from whom he must keep a secret. There's hope when the youngest son (Franco Masini) leaves, but it's offset by the return of the prodigal son (Gastón Cocchiarale), who immediately joins the family business.

It's just what happens, with little concern for exploring how or why it does so, beyond the rudimentary points that Arquímedes is a cruel, cold man (Francella is chilling here—brutally methodical yet desperately insecure) and that this somehow ties into the shifting political climate of the country. Trapero is observing the facts of the case in The Clan, although his insistence on juxtaposing those terrible facts with a period-appropriate soundtrack of popular music and some stylistic flourishes suggests a filmmaker who isn't entirely detached from the subjects.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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