Film Reviews

The Club Pablo Larraín

Rating - 6/10
The premise of Pablo Larraín's disturbingly inquisitive chamber drama culls from the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal. In a hypothetical fallout, four excommunicated priests are sentenced to live together on the edge of La Boca, Chile, a remote coastal village. Guarded by housekeeper Sister Mónica (Antonia Zegers), the men, particularly Father Vidal (Alfredo Castro), bide their time by rigorously training greyhounds for high-stakes races. Silent montages of morning routine (oft scored with chamber variations of Arvo Pärt's Fratres), the pale but picturesque setting, and notions of persecution define The Club's thematically bleak pacing that progressively feels like the Chilean cousin to the Irish Calvary (2014).
Cinematographer Sergio Armstrong creates a discomforting sense of voyeurism through a high contrast, color-muted palette compounded with fisheye and out-of-focus shots (that feel like aberrations). Acting as gatekeeper to the increasingly dire events, the camera also serves to censure the same religious self-interest addressed in Best Picture-winner, Spotlight (2015). Larraín's film, however, takes a razor-edged approach in its fiction that originates from a more personal, inescapable place. Where the collective of accumulating reports propel Spotlight's public revelations, The Club internally asks more philosophical and abstract questions regarding rehabilitation. Or is this isolated residence really just a purgatorial priest retreat?
After the sudden ghostly, galvanizing appearance of victim Sandokan (Roberto Farías) triggers the guilt-ridden suicide of Fr. Lazcano (José Soza), the Vatican sends the stern Fr. García (Marcelo Alonso) to temper the situation; but his increased surveillance (and laborious backstory-expounding interviews) only seem to further contribute to the immutable desolation. Critic Yonca Talu's review addresses a "chain reaction of evil, whereby victims and perpetrators ultimately suffer at the hands of the same exploitative system," which precisely defines the hierarchy of organized religion. In response to this condemnation, Larraín poses his own question in formulation of the film: If no one holds the priests accountable for molestation, torture, and human trafficking, then what do they have to fear? In lieu of divine punishment and earthly retribution, they remain hidden in limbo only to protect the Church's public face.
In that sense, The Club can be seen as a morally challenging play, which asks its audience to invest in the fates of ill and damaged men responsible for the unspeakable in the name of God. Yet, Larraín also goads the audience to advocate for the priests' punishment, as he looks beyond penitence in dramatic demonstrations of the violent consequences of ignorance. And essentially, this is at the heart of the film's beginnings: The perpetrators being whisked away to live in communal solitude is only a slight variation of actual events where Church officials bargained with community leaders to keep quiet while the priests persevered in new parishes.
Besides potentially conflicting messages of forgiveness and vengeance, the emerging problem in The Club's arc rests with Sandokan's characterization as a force of nature. While he's an ever-present reminder of sin, his manner and intention are far too brusque and explicit. Rather, the film's emphasis would benefit from more solemn reflection of Sandokan's traumatic experience to sustain psychological duress. Moreover, the hazy, low-angled close-ups of fallen priests in conversation with García may occasionally elicit a burning theoretical analogy (especially one pertaining to Vidal's dog Rayo as an animalizing/humanizing reflection of him); but these tedious sessions paradoxically avoid acute issues by restating the ever-apparent. At least one of Larraín's points here is persuasive: No Vatican bureaucrat or anyone from within could hope to be a counselor to true and vital change.