Monday, January 25, 2016

Trapero’s The Clan

This film was made possible by Margaret Thatcher. By standing firm against Argentine aggression in the Falklands, she fatally undermined the despised military regime. You might think progressives would give credit where itis due, but obviously not. Regardless, the fall of the junta left former intelligence services employee Arquímedes Puccio unemployed. With the winking protection of colleagues still in the military, Puccio put his very particular set of skills to work as the head of his own family kidnapping racket. The rise and fall of the Puccios is dramatized in Pablo Trapero’s The Clan (trailer here), Argentina’s official foreign language Oscar submission, which opens this Friday in New York.

Puccio looks like a mild mannered sort, but he maintains a profoundly unhealthy hold over his eldest son Alejandro/Alex. Alejandro is popular within his social circle. He is a star member of the national rugby team and has just opened an aquatic sporting goods store below their flat. However, the patriarch will not let him leave the family business. His two younger brothers simply aren’t nearly as reliable during the abduction process.

Poor Alejandro also feels rather bad about setting up their first victim, Ricardo Manoukian, a classmate from a wealthy family. Unfortunately, Alejandro did not understand his father’s M.O. will be to collect the ransom money and then make the hostage disappear to eliminate any possible witnesses. Of course, their final kidnapping will not work out so well, as we can tell from the in media res opening and the periodic flashforwards.

Clan is more like a series of high quality true crime re-enactment than a sweeping crime saga in the Godfather tradition. It becomes quite an object of fascination, but is never truly engrossing. Although plenty of time is devoted to the toxic Puccio father-and-son relationship, Trapero and co-screenwriters Esteban Student and Julian Loyola never really get inside anyone’s head. Stylistically, it is not so very different from Cédric Jimenez’s The Connection, but it does not have the same sweep as the French film or the extensive law & order POV characters.

Playing at least a decade beyond his years, Guillermo Francella is pretty darned riveting as Old Man Puccio. He is like a veritable black hole of parental dysfunction. Unfortunately, just as Alejandro is no match for the manipulative Arquímedes, Peter Lanzani wilts next to Francella. Much like Johnny Depp in Black Mass, Francella dominates and elevates what would otherwise be a very routine crime drama.

Thanks to Francella, the design team’s spot on period details, and makeup/stylist Araceli Farace’s transforming work, The Clan is a good, solid film, but not a great one. Of course, some weeks good is pretty great. Recommended for those intrigued by the notorious case, The Clan opens this Friday (1/29) in New York.