After concluding his Pinochet trilogy with No, Chilean director Pablo Larraín has moved onto a new target. Disarming humour and a gentle build up pave the way for a devastating critique of the Catholic Church. The Club might not have the exuberant energy of his last film, but the attack is infinitely sharper.
The sins of past and present come under the microscope at a house in a small, grey town. Living inside are four ex-communicated priests and a nun. They go about a seemingly normal life, eating together, chatting together and running a nice line in greyhound racing. What lies beneath the surface is the reason for the house. These are men of God fallen far from the deity’s favour. Yet instead of justice, they’ve been shuttled into anonymity to avoid scandal for the Church.
Into this world come two forces that threaten to destabilise it. There’s the arrival of Father García (Marcelo Alonso), part of the new order come to shut down these stains on Catholic honour. A pious, blunt man, he hates them for what they’ve done and disapproves of their extra-curricular activities. No more dog racing, no more drinking, and far more penance. It’s not a holiday home after all.
Perhaps this might have been manageable for the priests had Sandokan (Roberto Farías) a damaged man not turned up screaming in the street about the obscenities perpetrated against him as a child. Stuck between a holy rock and a shameful hard place, something has to give.
Amidst this squalid backdrop Larrain weaves in humour to soften the misery. Rambling digressions and non-sequiturs draw laughs. This is all a smokescreen, diverting attention before he stops pulling punches and exposes the Church. When the poor victim of abuse turns up, the first thought from those in the house is to go out with a gun and scare him off. No recompense, no empathy, just the use of fear to avoid recriminations. This appears to be the standard response.
Father García looks like he might be different, a new approach from a new Church. He despises the inhabitants of the house, and truly believes they should face justice for their crimes, incidentally crimes they still deny. Here Larraín steps up his attack. New words for new times perhaps, but the end result is exactly the same, demonstrated in an incredibly powerful scene. With heavy, ominous music building in the background, Father García conspires to find a way to punish the priests, deal with Sandokan and ultimately wash his hands of them all with operatic malevolence.
When Larraín peaks at this point, there’s no coming back. This is not a film of half measures. Hidden in murky washed out colours and laced with sardonic humour, The Club takes a hard topic and hits even harder.
Director: Pablo Larraín
Writers: Guillermo Calderón, Daniel Villalobos
Stars: Roberto Farías, Antonia Zegers, Alfredo Castro
Runtime: 98 min