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The Club


Roberto Farías, Antonia Zegers, Alfredo Castro, Alejandro Goic, Alejandro Sieveking, Jaime Vadell, Marcelo Alonso, Jose Soza

Chilean drama from film-maker Pablo Larraín, set in a small coastal town. Four aged Catholic priests live in exile under the watchful eye of a nun, Sister Monica (Antonia Zegers). Father Vidal (Alfredo Castro), Father...



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Chilean drama from film-maker Pablo Larraín, set in a small coastal town. Four aged Catholic priests live in exile under the watchful eye of a nun, Sister Monica (Antonia Zegers). Father Vidal (Alfredo Castro), Father Ortega (Alejandro Goic), Father Silva (Jaime Vadell) and Father Ramirez (Alejandro Sieveking) are here to serve time repenting an array of indecent acts from child abuse to abducting children. The arrival of a fifth disgraced priest, Father Lazcano (Jose Soza), disrupts the idyllic retreat. Local fisherman Sandokan (Roberto Farías), who suffered at the hands of Lazcano, recognises him and informs the rest of the unsuspecting village. The aggression and violence this causes necessitates the dispatching of a crisis counsellor, Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso).
  • Featuring Roberto Farías, Antonia Zegers, Alfredo Castro, Alejandro Goic, Alejandro Sieveking, Jaime Vadell, Marcelo Alonso, Jose Soza
  • Directors Pablo Larraín
  • Other Cast Sergio Armstrong, Carlos Cabezas, Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín, Guillermo Calderón, Pablo Larraín, Daniel Villalobos
  • Running time 97 minutes
  • Certification 18
  • Languages Spanish
  • Region 2
  • Subtitles Yes
  • Format DVD
  • Year 2015
  • Release Date 30/05/2016
  • Number of Discs 1
  • Colour Colour
  • Label Fremantle
  • RRP 12.99
  • Country of Origin Chile
  • Subtitle Languages English
  • Original Language Spanish

This work of rare compassion was our Film of the Week when it was first released in cinemas.

Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated NO centres on five priests sequestered in a coastal bolthole by the Church after various abuse scandals.

After the sunny optimism of 2012’s NO, the Oscar-nominated drama detailing the ad campaign that helped overthrow the Pinochet regime, writer-director Pablo Larrain has returned to examining the less palatable aspects of Chilean life.

The Club introduces us to a tightknit community of greyhound-training eccentrics – five men, one woman – holed up in a coastal halfway house that represents the very margins of society. Their cover will be blown very early on: the men are disgraced priests being sheltered by the Catholic Church after claims of child sex abuse.

That such sanctuaries exist in our world comes as less of a shock after the rigorous investigative journalism of 2012’s Mea Maxima Culpa (and, of course, the recent Spotlight). Larrain isn’t here to cast judgement, though: his interest lies in the everyday lives of these alleged deviants. Routine here resembles that of any seaside retirement home. Nondescript rounds of pottering and planting; walking the dog on the beach; communal meals.

The calm will, however, be shattered by the presence of a sometime victim, Sandokan (Roberto Macias), who repeatedly parks himself outside this safehouse to launch into – and here, the film merits a trigger warning, as well as its 18 certificate – agonised descriptions of his ordeal.

Even out this way, it seems, there is no escaping what the priests have done; cast in a chalky, penumbral light, this nook is at once a retreat and, in the wider, theological scheme of things, a purgatory.

The tension here lies in the extent to which these men are beyond redemption – which may depend on the viewer’s experience, and our capacity for forgiveness. The house’s sole female presence, the Church-appointed go-between Sister Monica (Antonia Zegers), regards all of her charges with some fondness, certainly – although her beatific smile starts to seem increasingly fixed and spooky the more we learn.

More obviously sympathetic is Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso), the young reformist who arrives in the wake of a tragedy to assess whether the survivors are damned for all eternity or ready to be returned to the flock. Yet even this holiest of new brooms appears horribly compromised by the vows that he’s taken: you could argue he’s doing God’s work, or merely perpetuating the problem.

This is typical of a film where every characterisation is unusually nuanced, establishing what one could call a Kinsey scale of deviancy. Where certain of the priests, like Alfredo Castro’s doleful Father Vidal, confess their sins and express their horror both at what they’ve done and the very idea of paedophilia, others – whether knowingly, or as a result of failing faculties – retain a ragged, passive-aggressive form of counsel.

Larrain’s one editorial flourish is to draw a parallel between these men and the lean, hungry dog placed in their care. (The greyhound is the only canine mentioned in the Bible, we’re told.) Here, The Club seems to say, are two sets of accursed beasts, both trained in the suppression of natural appetites. The hare is kept within sight, yet just out of arm’s reach, until the gun goes off – then the slavering charge for the prey begins.

All of which is to say The Club remains, by necessity, a tough watch. Both geographically and ideologically, we are some distance from the crowdpleasing NO, with its pin-up lead; Larrain’s subject is exactly that personal and institutional rot Spotlight’s heroes had to work overtime to expose. Yet the films’ virtues are the same: tight, economic screenwriting, suggesting entire histories and worldviews within a handful of words; thoughtful manipulation of form to better reflect characters’ perspectives; exceptionally committed performances. (Farias is especially heartbreaking in his conjunction of need and confusion.)

Some will be angered by the insinuation that both abusers and abused alike wound up here in the pursuit of nothing more shameful than love; others, perhaps, by the final slide towards melodrama.

In itself, though, The Club retains an open heart and an open mind: from start to finish, it’s wholly compassionate in its representation of individuals many filmmakers would surely have turned away from.

Few other films this year will provoke as much post-screening discussion, that’s certain; pointedly arriving on UK screens over the Easter weekend, it is, in its own way, a minor miracle.

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