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EL CLUB (Chile 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Pablo Larrain
Review by Gilbert Seah
Pablo Larrain’s (NO, TONY MANERO) latest film is a very different drama that is as absorbing as it is deadly slow-moving. The title of THE CLUB (EL CLUB) refers to an open prison for disgraced priests. The 4 priests and nun confined there in the seaside town of La Boca in Chile by the church are about to have their idyllic sojourn shaken to the ground.
EL CLUB is a very complex film, in a way similar to last year’s CALVARY starring Brendan Gleeson, a black comedy about a priest taking on the sins of a murderer. Both films coincidentally take place in a seaside setting.
The film begins innocently with a greyhound race that takes place in La Boca. The grey greyhound wins the race. It is slowly revealed that the animal is trained by a father who resides in the roomed building. There are three other priests who all place bets. It turns out that Father Vidal (Alfredo Castro), Father Ortega (Alejandro Goic), former army chaplain Father Silva (Jaime Vadell), and senile Father Ramirez (Alejandro Sieveking), disgraced priests are all dutifully tended to by a similarly “retired” nun, Sister Monica (Antonia Zegers), who is apparently not that innocent. She is called a bitch by one of the fathers later on in the film.
Trouble brews when another disgraced priest, Father Lazcano (Jose Soza) is delivered to the house. He shoots himself after a young local fisherman, Sandokan (Roberto Farias), recognizes him. Sandokan, kind of a crazed bum, remembers the abuses he suffered as an altar boy at Lazcano’s hands and starts screaming the abuses outside the doorstep. Then the church dispatches Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso), a crisis counsellor, to settle things. The priests come to believe, that Father Garcia’s intention is to close the house down.
The story turns into a horrid tale of survival. It is each man for himself, even for Sandokan and Father Garcia who is disliked and looked upon with suspicion by all.
Director Larrain is a great story teller always keeping the audience in anticipation with always a twist in the story around very corner. His camera work is meticulous, capturing the tranquility and imprisonment of the subjects despite the beautiful seaside setting. Violence is kept at a minimum, and mostly left to the imagination. He also keeps each priest as interesting as the other – each having their own individuality despite being there for the identical purpose.
One of the greatest pleasures of the film is the director’s use of Arvo Part’s music. I first heard the Estonian composer’s music, ‘Spiegel I’m Speigel’ when I first saw Gus Van Sant’s 2002 film, GERRY years back. Part known for his classical and religious music, he delivers a beautiful score that adds to both the serenity and eeriness of the film’s proceedings.
Whether the film ending is a happy one is arguable – best left to the audience to decide. But EL CLUB is a story that concerns many key issues – identity, beliefs, redemption, fulfilment but mostly forgiveness and how one can live with oneself after any terrible deed.
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