El Clan (2015) | Best Director| Argentinian Film Festival
Director: Pablo Trapero
Cast: Antonia Bengoechea, Gaston Cocchiarale, Guillermo Francella, Stefania Koessl
110min Crime Drama | Argentina
Pablo Trapero’s heightened melodrama chronicling the true story of the Puccio Clan, a family who kidnapped and killed people in 80s Buenos Aires, will have little interest for those outside Argentina. Though as a study of family psychopathy, it zips along in undeniably gripping although at times uneven style.
It emerges that the Puccio family were hardly on the breadline. The scion, Arquimedes Puccio, is father to five kids who live in reasonable comfort together with wife Epifania (Lili Popovich), a teacher; while making a living kidnapping those who clearly had a few bob more than themselves. Guillermo Francella (The Secrets of Their Eyes) plays the hard-eyed cool operator with a smug obsequious conceit that is both irritating and deeply unsettling; his fiery rugger bugger son, Alex (Peter Lanzini), is a more appealing character and the two vy with each other throughout making this an absorbing father|son portrait as much as it is a noirish seventies-set crime thriller.
EL CLAN opens with a brief political sketch of the Argentinian scene in the early eighties when the country was attempting to return to democracy after years of dictatorship. As in most Latin countries, well-heeled Arquimedes is closely connected to the right people in business and government. He also expects to rule his family with a rod of iron, maintaining a close grip on family affairs and engaging the children as accomplices in his skulduggery – whether they like it or not. Alex resents his father using him to facilitate the kidnap of a rugby club contact – even though he gets to set up a diving shop with a cut of the dosh – but is horrified when the victim is kept chained to a radiator in one of their bedrooms. Kidnappings pile up often ending in the victims being killed after the ransom is collected.
There’s nothing particularly stylish or inventive about the brass-tinted aesthetic of Sebastian Orgambide’s production design or Julian Apeztquia’s camerawork: this is a bog standard genre thriller that slips down nicely as a straightforward narrative – if you happen to drop off for twenty minutes – you can rejoin the action without really missing a trick, although you’ll be hard-pressed to get much rest with Sebastian Escofet’s pounding soundtrack. Particularly macho and misogynist is the scene where Alex’s girlfriend’s cries of ecstasy are matched with those of a distressed kidnap victim.
All and all, this is stolid, run-of-the mill stuff. Decently scripted by Trapero and his sidekicks Esteban Student and Julian Loyola this will appeal to men who like a good kidnapping story or Trapero’s style. Quite why it won Best Director at Venice Film Festival remains as much of a mystery as the activities of the strangely banal yet clearly lethally dysfunctional Puccio family. MT
ARGENTINIAN FILM FESTIVAL | CURZON LONDON on 18 August 2016 | REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015