Pablo Trapero (2015)
I saw The Clan the day after seeing the second episode of National Treasure on television. I thought about the Channel 4 drama as I watched Pablo Trapero’s movie, which is certainly dull enough to make the mind wander. National Treasure, inspired by Operation Yewtree, has two more parts to go so it may be premature to pass judgment but I don’t think that, as a drama, it’s up to much. The director, Marc Munden, makes everything look either bleak or lurid: the story is taking place in the existential hell that the central character – Paul Finchley, a venerable TV comic accused of past sexual offences – has created for himself and his family. Munden appears to have encouraged a similar approach on the part of his cast, especially his leading man. Robbie Coltrane has none of the plausibility or surface charm that Paul Finchley would have needed to become what the double-edged title says he is – Coltrane is, rather, an expressionistic study of the national treasure’s massive bad conscience. But to assess it according to dramatic criteria is largely to miss the point – and the power – of National Treasure. It’s a primetime television treatment of an inherently shocking subject: many viewers will feel that Marc Munden’s infernal visualisation of that subject isn’t just appropriate but necessary.
The Clan is more than inspired by historical events. It’s the story of the Puccios, an actual middle-class family in Buenos Aires who, during the 1980s, kidnapped a series of rich victims whom they held captive and, once they’d collected the ransom money, murdered. Although it isn’t suggested that the Puccios were the tip of a national criminal iceberg, the CV of the paterfamilias Arquímedes, the prime mover in his family’s criminal operations, connects these with the country’s political history. During the military dictatorship that seized power in Argentina in 1976 and retained it until 1983, Arquímedes worked for the junta’s intelligence services, helping to make opponents of the regime disappear. After the Falklands War, Arquímedes finds himself out of a job and turns to a form of crime that isn’t state-sanctioned. The Puccios were and still are notorious in Argentina. According to Wikipedia, The Clan, on its release in August 2015, ‘had the largest opening weekend of any Argentinean film in history, with a box office total of 32 million pesos and 505,000 tickets sold between opening Thursday and Sunday, representing 53% of all cinema-goers’. The success of Trapero’s move has now led to a TV series about the family. Like National Treasure, The Clan compels by its subject the attention of the audience for which it’s primarily designed.
In London, The Clan is unsurprisingly being screened predominantly in arthouse cinemas. Because this is a foreign language film set in a specific time and place, perhaps audiences will see it as politically trenchant. The insertion of a few bits of news film featuring Argentine politicians of the 1980s in effect encourages this response. Some arthouse viewers may well approve too of the fact that Pablo Trapero doesn’t seek to ‘glamorise’ the Puccios – that is, to make them challengingly sympathetic in any way. Once he’s supplied a picture of the moneyed social circles in which they move and increasingly thrive, Trapero and his co-writers, Julian Loyola and Esteban Student, don’t even present their pathological lifestyle as one that’s become shockingly normal to the family members. Arquímedes and his wife Epifanía have five children, three sons and two daughters. In different ways and to a varying extent, at least four of the children try to distance themselves from what their father is up to but Trapero doesn’t do much to develop these elements. When the eldest son Alejandro, a star rugby player, falls in love, his girlfriend Mónica doesn’t become an outsider of much consequence: she’s incurious about Alejandro’s family and arouses limited suspicion among them.
The Clan offers little insight into its characters and lacks the drama of either substantial personal conflicts or complicated plotting. It consists largely of description of the Puccios’ wrongdoings, including the abduction and abuse of their victims. This probably hasn’t harmed box-office takings: in one of the film’s flashiest (nastiest) sequences, the torture and killing of one victim is cross-cut with Alejandro and Mónica having sex in the back of a car. Elsewhere, Trapero counterpoints what’s on screen with a catchy choice of music for the soundtrack. These ironic pairings of sight and sound are remarkably obvious. Although it’s always good to hear the Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’, its repeated use in The Clan is offensively crude: Trapero first plays the song to score images of la dolce vita of the Puccios’ social world then, at the film’s conclusion, to accompany shots of the family’s being brought to justice. As Arquímedes Puccio, Guillermo Francella has a convincing professional impersonality: perhaps no one but a close observer would notice his piercing light-blue eyes and the signals they give of what lies beneath. Since the film doesn’t, however, give much idea of how people outside the family wrongly suppose Arquímedes is respectably spending his days, Francella’s subtlety is wasted. It’s easy to believe too that the amiable pin-up boy Alejandro, as played by Peter Lanzani, would avoid suspicion among his rugby teammates et al. The trouble is, a viewer of The Clan doesn’t get to see in the bland Lanzani’s face any more about Alejandro than his friends see.
28 September 2016