The Club (18) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Pablo Larrain, Chile, 2015, 98 mins, in Spanish with subtitles

Cast: Alfredo Castro, Roberto Farias, Antonia Zegers, Marcelo Alonso

Review by David Edwards-Hall

A group of priests stranded in a rural location and presided over by a super-efficient housekeeper. British audiences may think immediately of Father Ted, but Pablo Larrain’s latest study in human nature has something much more serious and sombre on its mind. Faultlessly acted and written, though a little underpowered visually, this is a film that gradually boils to a shocking climax. Even as it encourages compassion for those who seem beyond redemption.

The title is ironic: for The Club is a group of priests all guilty of child sexual abuse, and shipped off to a Church-imposed house arrest in a remote Chilean coastal town. This is a club no one wants to belong to, yet no one can leave. The Church’s refusal to deal head-on with these men means that they exist in limbo, hidden away, forgotten. But unlike, say, Spotlight, Larrain’s film is not interested in moral judgment on the Church or bringing anyone to court; instead, it examines what it means to be a prisoner of past actions.

Two new arrivals galvanise the story: Padre Lazcano (Jose Soza), the latest priest to join this house of shame, and one of his victims, Sandokan (Farias), who has spent years following his abuser around his various postings. Sandokan stands outside the house and, loudly and at length, tells in graphic detail of the abuse he has suffered at the hands of Lazcano. In another sort of film this might lead to some form of retribution: vigilantism amongst the locals, the attentions of the police. Not here; the drama plays out amongst this small group, the later scenes being a series of montages in which the residents of the home are interviewed by a Church fixer, Padre Garcia (Alonso). The priests talk straight to camera, and in various stages of denial, seek to justify their actions. And still, there is time for the initially passive housekeeper (Zegers) to reveal a sliver of ice in her heart, and for a shocking act of violence.

This is a complex, though far from complicated film, with subtle shadings that shift the viewers’ alliances. The muted greys and silvers employed by DoP Sergio Armstrong in filming the sky, sea and mist help to set the ambiguous tone, whilst a mournful score of cello and strings downplay the pressure cooker atmosphere. Larrain has made a film at once powerful and understated, and one that refuses to pass judgment on fragile, flawed people.

THE CLUB directed by Pablo Larraín is in UK cinemas now  #TheClubFilm