Following his stint in the Spanish-language anthology film, 7 Days in Havana which was undertaken by several filmmakers and actors from golden boy, Benicio del Toro to Emir Kusturica. Pablo Trapero returns to the director’s chair with a kaboom in The Clan, Argentina’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards.
The Clan is based off a true and notorious case that made national headlines in its own country, in which a seemingly normal family in Buenos Aires kidnapped several people for ransom money, killing nearly all of them. At the head of the family was Arquímedes Puccio (Guillermo Francella), the mastermind behind the operation who turned to kidnapping, mainly targeting wealthy families, to keep the money flowing after becoming unemployed following the Falklands war. His eldest son, Alejandro “Alex” Puccio (Peter Lanzani) is a local celebrity and star rugby player who sends his care to his father at the beginning, even lending a rugby playing friend as Arquímedes’ first victim, but as the film leaps further down the rabbit hole, Alex grows ever more hostile towards his Dad, and thus the rest of the family cower in fear as the threat of a police raid looms closer and closer.
The Clan is the perfect material for Trapero to sink his teeth into. Before, he has made the female prison drama, Lion’s Den, and the ghetto thriller, White Elephant. Trapero brings a vigour to his crime stories that few can mimic, he also brings short bursts of explosive violence that would impress the likes of Scorsese. There is also a certain dignity to his films, a style that makes his films re-watchable despite containing some gruelling imagery. The impressive use of tracking shots is one such instance, when Arquímedes passes from room to room in the house, telling his children to go downstairs to get their dinner, before finally entering the bathroom where a victim is chained to the wall, you realise that this is happening just meters away from his daughters, and sometimes they are well aware of what is going on.
Guillermo Francella as Arquímedes Puccio is outstanding. In his native country, Francella is an established and much-loved comic actor – in one of the DVD extras courtesy of Curzon Artificial Eye, Trapero mentions that Francella would often get approached by his fellow countrymen and women for hugs. After they see The Clan, they would probably think twice before asking again. Francella scares you witlessly, to a degree where you are left uncertain of what he will do next. His personality is that of a snake, he glares down his family members with his icy blue eyes as he slithers from person to person. Almost his entire family was abused by his actions, like his hostages. Even when he is protecting them, there is a fearful characteristic deep inside.
There is a moment where Alex confronts him as to why he killed his friend from Rugby, and Arquímedes tells him that he had to kill him, because if he was still alive, the victim would have identified them as the culprits and put his entire family at risk. On the opposite side of the coin is Lanzani as Alex. Lanzani brings the warmth that the film needs without becoming too callous. With his wild hair-do, long sideburns, and insecure personality, you relate to him, as if his character is built from mistakes that he has made in the past. He gets a girlfriend at definitely the wrong place and the wrong time, he backs out of the third kidnapping which doesn’t end well. It is a constant struggle as he tries so hard to get out of this life and turn over a new leaf.
The outer shell of this dynamic core is a stylization that is fully utilised to enhance each character’s inner repulsiveness and sporadic actions through the edits. The world imagined adopts a bleak colour palette and one of the film’s most nerve-wracking and memorable scenes is when Alex and his girlfriend are having sex in the backseat of his car, in which Trapero and his editor, Alejandro Carrillo Penovi, crosscut the moans of making love with the screams of a hostage as he is about to be shot in the back of the head by Arquímedes’ goons. On top of this, a rock song plays in the background which neatly ties the two scenes together. The soundtrack is poppy and fits the 80’s setting – which is another leaning of a Scorsese movie. Trapero spins records from The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Tombstone Shadow” to point out the dramatic irony of the unpleasant situations around each character.
There is definitely a possibility that Argentinian cinema is having its moment, following the critical praise of the black comedy anthology film, Wild Tales. The baton is now passed on to The Clan and one can only hope that the smooth sailing continues with more films of this quality. The way the film ends shouldn’t be spoilt, and the less you know about what happened to the Puccio’s after their crimes, the better. The Clan is a great and grisly film and those with a love of the crime genre should seek out.