If Pablo Trapero’s new film were a person, it would be Clint Eastwood kicking back with poncho and cheroot as the man with no name. The Clan is all moody stares, sweet tunes, and viscerally sudden violence, by far the coolest chapter in the career of a director continuing to grow better with age.
Taken from a virulently mean-spirited episode in recent Argentinian history, it charts the career of the Puccio clan, a family of kidnappers who went on a mini-spree that saw them target individuals, lock them away in their own casa, and then bump the poor victims off once payment had been received. This all appeared to occur under the protection of the state, or at least prominent local officials, contacts the family patriarch, Arquímedes, had built up from his work disappearing people during the dirty war of the Galtieri era.
This patriarch, played with cool fury and calculating selfishness by Guillermo Francella, is a nasty piece of work. He rules his family with an iron fist, dragging in elder son Alejandro (Peter Lanzani), a promising rugby player, and berating an absent child who had the nerve to leave for New Zealand. When anyone disobeys his diktat, he immediately brands them an ingrate. He shows even less empathy with his victims, tying them up in the bathroom and forcing pleading letters in their own hand. He’s the terrifying heart of Trapero’s film, his shadow looming large even in his absence.
You’ll notice a lack of mention of the women in the house. Despite a mother clearly complicit, and a collection of daughters that live in the very same building as their father’s little cash earners, Trapero seems happy to cast them aside. It’s the fatal flaw that reduces The Clan to a stylish swagger of a crime thriller, black-hearted but empty inside. Even the sons are given little wiggle room. Alejandro, the most prominent figure besides his father, remains thinly sketched. His complicity is clear, yet his understanding of the situation is murky. Does he not realise that by aiding the kidnap of a rugby colleague, the young man can never be allowed to return without identifying Alejandro? Does he not see, when the rug is finally pulled from under them after a family refuses to pay the ransom, keeping an elderly woman locked in the basement for years can only go one way? He offers no challenge or explanation, a wider problem across the film.
If it fails it build on the premise, that swagger is something to behold. Trapero cuts between periods to show the before and after, and introduces music with a nonchalant smirk. At one point, the entirety of The Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon blasts out as the camera moves across several locations. The kidnappings themselves bristle with tension, exploding suddenly into violence as they grab and subdue victims after careful set-ups. Always, Arquímedes is there watching, never showing a flicker of emotion until it goes wrong at the end. Then, he can’t wash his hands of the people he’s claimed to be doing it for fast enough.
The film ends with a bang before closing text reveals even more shocking details about their respective fates. There might not be much going on beyond the surface detail, but when it shines this maliciously, who really cares.
Director: Pablo Trapero
Stars: Antonia Bengoechea, Gastón Cocchiarale, Guillermo Francella
Runtime: 110 min
Country: Argentina, Spain