The Club, 2015.
Directed by Pablo Larrain.
Starring Alfredo Castran, Roberto Farias, Antonia Zegers, Jaime Vadell, Alejandro Goic, Alejandro Sieveking, Marcelo Alonso, Jose Soza and Francisco Reyes.
A crisis counsellor is sent by the Catholic Church to a small Chilean beach town where disgraced members of the clergy, suspected of crimes ranging from child abuse to baby-snatching , live in secluded isolation.
The Club (or El Club), is a beautifully disturbing picture and also something of a tough watch. Give it the time and lose yourself in its grim waters though, and you’re left with an alarming piece with plenty of uncomfortable truths about the church, social dysfunction and existence as a whole.
Brought to the screen by acclaimed Chilean writer and director Pablo Larrain, his fifth feature The Club takes a bleak look at a secluded beach town where four ex-priests have been exiled due to various crimes. They live in a timeless purgatorial world, attended to by a nun (Antonia Zegers), who provides the necessary victuals to keep them in the present and (perhaps) reflect on why they are there. It is a strange world of greyhound races, living amongst nature and feeling a certain familial kind of sympathetic trust.
In a sense the audience is granted access into this world – and it is one where we view these characters as people, not monsters, although capable of monstrous acts. The evil is institutional in its make up, and there is little doubt where Larrain stands on the issue of corruption, abuse and concealment of historic crimes against humanity.
The quiet internal imprisonment of ‘the club’ of disgrace is shaken up by the arrival of two priests. The first, Padre Lazcano (Alejandro Sieveking) does not have long to make an impression before being confronted by a local fisherman – and victim of abuse – Sandokan (Roberto Farrias) who is extremely vocal about the ex-priest’s crimes. The troubled man recounts in graphic detail exactly what he had to endure as a young boy due to this now banished clergyman. The shameful barbs and guilt are too much for Lazcano, who promptly blows his brains out with a rifle rather than confront the truth and his victim.
The second priest who joins this cultish retreat is Padre Garcia (Marcelo Alonso), a more modern liberal kind of priest who does things in a calm, authoritative kind of way. His character is possibly an attempt by Larrain to show that all hope is not completely lost at the centre of the church. He has been entrusted to find out exactly what went on with Lazcano and Sandokan and soon finds himself embroiled in a distinctly wind-swept heart of darkness. This darkness is hinted at through dialogue and interview with the remaining club members and it is this intimacy of detail that provides the true horror in this intriguing, but ultimately not completely successful film.
The Club contains more than a few worrying features – particularly in view of the abused Sandokan’s sexuality – that gives pause for thought about what the true intentions were. It could be argued of course that the message is as unclear as human experience and nature is itself. Taking that to one side, the film is without any doubt a sustained attack on organised religion’s ability to warp and deceive. Where it falters is the willingness to go for shock tactics rather that taking a studied look at the whole political and religious picture of abuse.
THE CLUB directed by Pablo Larraín is in UK cinemas 25 March 2016 #TheClubFilm
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.