THIS TRUE STORY of a family that’s in the kidnapping business is really a personification of the culture of disappearances in the early 80’s Argentina. And more than this, The Clan is a bigger, fascinating story about the nature of power.
The paterfamilias of the family is Arquimedes Puccio (Guillermo Francella from The Secret in Their Eyes). He’s a simple shopkeeper, helps his daughter do her homework and cheers on his popular athletic sons. An ideal family. But with his cold, stern visage and icy eyes, this is the banality of evil. He was part of the secret service and at the heart of its clandestine kidnappings of political opponents. But even as the politics have moved on (“This democracy”, says one of his, now imprisoned, colleagues, “How long can it last? No more than two years”), his ways remain unchanged. Only now he kidnaps for money.
He, like the shadowy commodore who protects him (and by implication the demagogues that ran the country), is the undisputed and never to be questioned figure of absolute authority in the family. His sons have been, reluctantly, dragooned into the family business. His wife and the daughters – like the nation – passively accept the beaten, bloodied victims of the kidnappings, hidden in the basement of their well appointed home. It is their accepted norm. Say nothing, offer no protest, carry on as normal and all will be well. Political power always overwhelms the moral imperative.
It’s one son, Alejandro (Peter Lanzani) – a popular, and dashing sportsman (in order to signify the class of the family, he’s a rugby player, not a, common o garden, footballer) – in whom, with his newfound love, the stirrings of conscience begin to be felt. But conscience is easily enough bought out with the right amount of cash. And can conscience dare challenge the ties of loyalty and love that bind families together? Once you’re deep enough in the web of complicity, is there any possibility of escape?
Through the flashes of -actual- political speeches denouncing the past and locker-room chit chat of the sportsmen eager to take on the rest of the rugby playing world, director Pablo Trapero and his brilliant co-writer, Julian Loyola show us a nation eager to enact its own form of escape. The tones of the movie juxtapose the bright, daytime energy of the rugby players and the dark, nocturnal brutality of the family. It’s this darkness, this violent past that the new politics is so keen to drag itself away from. But, as we all know, though governments may change, the malignancy of their power structures remain in place.
Aquimedes Puccio and his types may now be out of political power, but their continued links to the real power keep the lines of corruption unchanged. It’s as though no matter how much the young nation, like Alejandro, the son, seeks to move forward, the future is fundamentally blocked by the dead weight of the past.
Until the center of gravity of the power shifts. Then things rapidly fall apart.
Like The Secret in Their Eyes, The Clan is another example of Argentine noir cinema. But unlike the more stylized (and glamorous) noir of Hollywood (and no wonder the remake of The Secret…fell flat), these movies offer enough of the mundane to be utterly and compellingly credible. This is not just another cute fiction of evil masquerading itself under a façade of normalcy, this is a frighteningly believable story about a nation and how power operates. And in Francella, a man with the coldest, deadest eyes in cinema, Argentine noir has its perfect protagonist.
The weakness in the movie is its editing, which at times was annoyingly choppy. But it’s a small to price for such a large cinematic reward.
The Clan. Dir: Pablo Trapero. Writer: Julian Loyola and Pablo Trapero. With: Guillermo Francella, Peter Lanzani, Lili Popovich. Cinematographer: Julián Apezteguia