Bath Film Festival 2016 – Preview
Crime/Thriller | Argentina | 2016 | 108 mins | 15 | Directed by: Pablo Trapero | Starring: Guillermo Francella, Peter Lanzani, Lili Popovich, Gastón Cocchiarale, Giselle Motta, Antonia Bengoechea | Produced by: Pedro Almodóvar, Agustín Almodóvar, Hugo Sigman, Esther García, Matías Mosteirín, Axel Kuschevatzky
From an outsider’s perspective, Arquímedes Puccio would have seemed like the conservative and obsessively tidy father of any other middle-class, church-going family in the traditional suburb of San Isidro. Yet behind closed doors, this supposedly pious patriarch, along with his wife and five children, orchestrated the brutal kidnappings of several wealthy neighbours to extort sizeable ransoms from their relatives.
One of the Argentina’s most notorious criminal cases is being brought back into the public eye as acclaimed Argentine auteur Pablo Trapero (Carancho, White Elephant) and the production outfit behind Damián Szifron’s Wild Tales, tells the sensational story of ‘The Clan’, from the point of view of the perpetrators, whose crimes were so surprising and upsetting that many locals refused to believe any of it was true.
These events transpired in the years following the end of the ‘Dirty War’, a period of state terrorism in Argentina throughout the 1970s and 80s, during which kidnapping, torture and murder were frequent occurrences in every community. The dictatorship led by Jorge Rafael Videla saw the ‘disappearances’ of an estimated 30,000 dissidents as right-wing death squads hunted down anyone posing a political threat. After the fall of the military junta, former state intelligence worker Puccio, played in the film by local star Guillermo Francella, continued to use his abduction skills to earn him some extra cash during the early days of a democracy that he was convinced wouldn’t last.
You may recognise Francella from the Oscar-winning crime thriller, The Secret in Their Eyes, but he’s known chiefly as a comic actor in Argentina, purposely cast in The Clan to subvert expectations as a shark-eyed psychopath. The actor even lived in the same area as the Puccio family and often saw them in the neighbourhood. Francella is joined by newcomer Peter Lanzini, who plays Alejandro, the eldest Puccio son and a local celebrity, who assists in identifying targets for his father despite his promising rugby career.
Director Pablo Trapero was only a boy when he witnessed the news coverage of the Puccio’s crimes and has been determined to revisit the story ever since. However, gaining the necessary information proved difficult. Two of the surviving members of the Puccio family still own the same house, yet deny being Puccios at all, having changed their names. Instead, Trapero reached out to the victims’ families, Alejandro’s team-mates and lawyers offering case files and recordings of the calls with ransom demands. The director was terrified about the responses of the victims’ families to the film, yet they were actually delighted as they felt it gave the victims the justice they deserved.
Following in the successful footsteps of Wild Tales (which previewed at BFF 2014), the story that rattled a nation has grabbed the public’s attention once again. In the film’s opening weekend, 53% of Argentinians who went to the cinema saw The Clan, meaning it achieved the strongest ever opening for an Argentine film with half a million admissions in four days, before heading to the world stage at the Venice and Toronto film festivals.
Trapero suggests that The Clan may have enabled a national catharsis, giving audiences an opportunity to finally reflect on past tragedies. Yet, in recent years, Argentina was shaken by the mysterious death of a prosecutor who had accused the then-president of covering up a 1994 terrorist attack; and a scandal over the country’s spy agency has revealed that some agents from the ‘Dirty War’ are still linked to the intelligence services, indicating that a sense of hidden horrors still reverberates through Argentine society today.
‘The Clan’/’El Clan’ will be screened at the Chapel Arts Centre as part of Bath Film Festival 2016 on Sunday 6 November, 8.10pm. For more information visit http://www.bathfilmfestival.org.uk