THE CLUB (EL CLUB) (2015)
Starring Alfredo Castro, Roberto Farias, Antonia Zegers, Jaime Vadell, Alejandro Goic, Alejandro Sieveking, Marcelo Alonso, Jose Soza, Francisco Reyes, Diego Muñoz, Gonzalo Valenzuela, Catalina Pulido, Paola Lattus, Erto Pantoja and Felipe Ríos.
Screenplay by Guillermo Calderon, Daniel Villalobos and Pablo Larrain.
Directed by Pablo Larrain.
Distributed by Music Box Films. 96 minutes. Not Rated.
If there is such a thing as a “feel-bad film” (and certainly there is), The Club is probably well deserving of the designation. Which is not to say that this Chilean import (Chile’s entry for a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination, which it did not receive) is a bad film or unworthy of seeing, it’s just a massive, massive downer.
It starts off a bit inscrutably. Four aging priests live together in a small compound in a run-down Chile shore town. They seem to have been assigned to this small community, and yet they do not seem to have many (or any) interactions with the townspeople. They do not seem to do much of anything.
One of the priests, Padre Vidal (Alfredo Castro) has befriended a local stray dog. Playing with him and also training the dog for the local races seems to be the one passion he has in his life. However, they watch the dog races from afar, not rooting with the other fans. The others priests – Padre Ramirez (Alejandro Sieveking) and Padre Silva (Jaime Vadell) – mostly stay around the house, reading, puttering around and moving slowly closer to death.
Apparently they have been sent to this house to meditate and repent, and though at first it is not acknowledged why they are there, anyone who has paid attention to the scandals of the Catholic Church can take a pretty educated guess.
Sister Mónica (Antonia Zegers – the wife of the director) a former nun who cares for them, takes care of everything from cooking to planning to health care. She seems much more connected to the world than her charges, but even she seems to be missing something in her life. And the question is always there, why was she really tapped for this job? The more you get to know the Sister, the creepier she becomes.
The priests’ quiet, under the radar life, is suddenly shattered when a new priest Padre Lazcano (José Soza) is assigned to join them. On his first day, a local vagrant named Sandokan (Roberto Farías) who apparently noticed the new priest being brought to the house, shows up and starts yelling the very disturbing details of Padre Lazcano raping him when he was a young altar boy. The priests and their caretaker panic, afraid the man’s screaming will alert the other townspeople of the shameful secret of the house. When Padre Lazcano goes out to confront the yelling man, a shocking act of violence occurs.
Strangely, Padre Lazcano – and the other priests – refuse to admit that they have done anything wrong, even to themselves. If they have any misgivings about their previous actions, they won’t acknowledge it unless they are directly confronted. Also it turns out that Sister Mónica had a baby (after resigning as a nun) which was taken from her by the church, and she also deflects any blame that she may have in this tragic outcome.
In the aftermath of the violence, Padre García (Marcelo Alonso), a Jesuit priest and psychologist, is sent down to investigate the incident and to force the priests to submerge themselves in their penance. He takes away all of their freedoms and perhaps most grievously forces Padre Vidal to abandon his beloved dog. It makes for an interesting conundrum, yes these men have done monstrous things and in many ways they have not paid for their crimes. However, does that mean that they should be allowed no happiness or distractions from a lifetime of penance? Perhaps they shouldn’t. I can’t claim to have any definitive answers to this question, but it is hard not to feel the elderly priest’s desolation at losing the only thing in the world that brings him any happiness.
The film also spends a lot of time following the victim Sandokan, and frankly this is one of the film’s weakest parts. Sandokan is more than just disturbed, which would be very understandable with his background, but he seems actively deranged, self-loathing, angry, violent, antagonistic and unsure of his sexuality. It is hard to feel for the man as a victim of a horrendous abuse because he is so abusive and abrasive to all the people he meets, to the point that Sister Mónica and Padre Vidal’s shockingly devious schemes to discredit him loses much of their power to jolt the audience.
The film also has a disturbing tendency to connect pedophilia and homosexuality in a few scenes, which is either naïve or simply misguided.
In certain ways, the melancholy edge of The Club is inevitable with such charged material. However, I’m not going to lie, the 2014 Irish film Calvary was able to balance the tragic circumstances and religious culpability of the scandals of the Catholic Church much more memorably. The climax of The Club, while certainly tragic, is difficult to believe and a bit over-the-top in its execution. It also pretty much cements the audience’s need to reject its main characters. (As an animal lover, one major aspect of the ending is nearly unforgivable.)
It does not share Calvary’s hard-earned but divine balance of faith and cynicism. As bleak as Calvary was, it left you with the sense that there could be some hope and good in the world, and that while religion can be misused for evil purposes it can also be used for great good. The Club leaves you mostly thinking that the priests deserve whatever private Hell it is that they are forced to live in.
Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 4, 2016.