The Clan confronts Argentina’s past with unflinching black humor — a film review

March 22, 2016

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The Clan may just be one of the most demented movies Argentina has ever produced. It’s a wide-eyed stare into the abyss of the legacy of its “Dirty War” of the ‘70s and ‘80s, where many opposed to the country’s dictatorship simply disappeared. During the South American nation’s transition to democracy a few supporters of the military junta had a hard time breaking habits. One fellow was Arquímedes Puccio, who dragged his wife and five children into complicity with schemes of kidnapping people for ransom.

The Clan had its U.S. premiere in Miami at last year’s Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival’s GEMS* where it won the Gigi Guermont GEMS Audience Award. It features a riveting performance by Argentine actor Guillermo Francella who plays the family’s patriarch with sinister aplomb. His more hands-on accomplices in the family are his two older sons, who took part in several kidnappings. Guillermo (Franco Masini) travels back home when the more apprehensive of the brothers, the national rugby star Alejandro (Peter Lanzani), begins to show his doubts. Meanwhile, the wife (Antonia Bengoechea) serves food and drink to Arquímedes and his partners while they plot their kidnapping schemes. The complicity of the youngest children is less direct though no less horrific. The two teenage daughters and the youngest son of the family simply ignore the screams from the bathroom, where victims were chained to a tub, with a semblance of nonchalance.

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Director Pablo Trapero uses sickly black humor to recount the Puccio family’s crimes, which hardly ever ended well for their victims. He uses an often steely cool palette of icy blues and grays. Fitting right in are the wide gray eyes of lead actor Francella, who also sports a shock of white, frazzled hair. Despite the perky soundtrack with The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” playing a recurring role and the film’s kinetic pace, Francella’s creepy performance is the glue that holds The Clan together. he gives the monstrous Puccio a riveting magnetism as he gaslights his wife and kids to unquestioningly follow his ploys. His mouth says one thing, but his eyes say something else. This is a man deep in a strange double life who seems comfortable wearing a split persona in full view of his closest relatives. Francella’s dead pan performance is key to scenes of domesticity at the dinner table while someone groans from the bathroom upstairs. The power of this man’s control is so heightened, that Trapero gifts the audience a brief but hilarious scene that might imply he sleeps with eyes open. Throughout the film, Francella takes the performance so disturbingly close to the edge of comedy that it will surely induce uncomfortable titters from the audience.

Propelled by a drifting camera that bestows the film with an uneasy omniscience that dares the audience to relate and sympathize with this devious family, The Clan’s only downfall is its editing and chronology, which might confuse some viewers. However, The Clan’s purpose is not to tell a thrilling whodunit story. It’s about reckoning with a dark past, and that means taking a hard look at a horrible history that will forever remain inextricable with Argentina’s identity and revealing its twisted stupidity for what it was: an aberrant notion of domesticity. These people rationalize their behaviors, bent on embracing the notion of a status quo that only benefited those with power. As one character says, “Democracy won’t last. I’ll give it two years max.”

Hans Morgenstern

The Clan runs 110 minutes, is in Spanish with English subtitles and is rated R. It opens in our South Florida area Friday, March 25 at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, Tower Theater in Miami, O Cinema Miami Beach, Regal 18 Miami Beach and in Broward County at the Cinema Paradiso Hollywood. This writer was granted a preview last October ahead of the film’s screening at GEMS 2015 for the purpose of a capsule review in the Miami New Times, of which this review expands upon. If you live outside of South Florida, jump over to the movie’s official page’s showtimes section.

*The dates for this year’s GEMS was announced last Friday. They are Oct. 13 – 16, 2016. Visit the Miami International Film Festival’s website to stay update with a line-up announcement.

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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