The Clan (Dir. Pablo Trapero)

Outsanding performances and direction bring to life this story, one of the most curious of Argentina's many intriguing historical dramas.
by: 
Sofia Mercader

The Clan, Pablo Trapero’s latest film, tells the story of the Puccios, one of the most famous families in 1980s Argentina. They were not famous for being a normal family living in the wealthy suburbs of Buenos Aires city, or because one of the sons, Alejandro (Alex), played in Los Pumas (the National Rugby Team), they rather became publicly known when in 1985 the entire family was arrested for kidnapping rich people and killing them after receiving a ransom for their lives.

The film focuses on Alejandro’s story and his dubious complicity with his family’s secret enterprise. Alejandro and his father Arquímedes, with the help of two other collaborators, first kidnapped a rich 24-years-old neighbor who was close to the CASI Rugby team where Alex used to play. They took the young victim to the Puccio’s house basement, blackmailed the Manoukian family promising that they would release him after getting half a million dollars and then killed him. Alejandro later decides not to participate in further kidnappings, but only after convincing his brother Daniel to return to the country to help his father with the ‘family business’.

Some of the most shocking scenes in the movie combine 1980s popular songs with images of violence in a sort of Tarantino style, while other scenes bring back to life some key political events in the country at that time period. For non-Argentine audiences the scene of former President Raúl Alfonsín speaking about Human Rights in December 1983 might seem only superficially related to the film’s plot. But there’s an underlying explanation on the Puccio’s crimes that roots back to the 1970s. Arquímedes Puccio had closely worked with the Armed Forces that governed Argentina between 1976 and 1983, the darkest period of the country’s history as thousands of innocent people were kidnapped, disappeared and killed by the military.

Not only Puccio had been an agent of the ultra-nationalist anti-communist paramilitary group that started disappearing political activists prior to 1976, he had also worked in the intelligence service until democracy was restored in late 1983, when president Alfonsín won the elections. The Puccios received protection from Arquímedes’ former colleagues until the different institutional organisms were purged by the democratic government. Without their protection, the Clan was finally arrested by the police in 1985.

Pablo Trapero therefore decided to include very few radio transmissions and video footages related to 1980s political events that illustrate the historical context in which the crimes were committed. Although not very organically intertwined with the storyline, these documentary bits add some density to the film’s plot. Trapero’s decision to fictionalize the story of the Puccios has been received with surprise in Argentina, as he has usually directed films about social and class issues (his previous film White Elephant was about a shanty town or villa miseria in Buenos Aires city). Nonetheless, it is still possible to find aesthetic and thematic coincidences between The Clan and Trapero’s earlier films: the interest in the Argentine social context it is one of them.

In all, the film successfully inserts the viewer in the creepiness of the family’s dynamic. The disturbing effect owes much to the outstanding performance of Guillermo Francella, who plays the role of the psychopathic authoritarian father, Arquímedes Puccio and has been increasingly gaining prestige as an actor since his role in Campanella’s The secret in their eyes. There are scenes where Arquimedes is announcing dinner, passing his children are doing homework right next to the bathrom where a hostage is being kept in the bath and to whom he is taking a plate of food. The whole scene outplayed to funky pop music with radio and TV noise in the background. Eery, edgy and engaging, it has captivated British critics in a  ideeply uncomfortable kind of way, owing much to the contrastingly cheerful soundtrack.

However, the dialogues are quite conventional for a thriller film and it seems like there are too many storylines (Alejandro’s, Arquímedes’ and the one about Argentine political events) that blur Alejandro’s narrative, which supposedly is the more interesting one in terms of his internal dilemma: whether to become and assassin by helping his father or not.

The Clan is entertaining and interesting, but unlike other Argentine productions from the past years (like Wild Tales, also produced by Hugo Sigman and Pedro Almodóvar). An fascinating story, interesting film, but perhaps not the very best of Traperos.

The Clan is on cinemas now. http://www.curzonartificialeye.com/the-clan/