Deirdre Murray ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Every family has its secrets. It just so happens that for the Puccio household, their secrets include kidnapping, exorbitant ransoms and murder. El Clan chronicles the true story of the Puccio family, as they commit atrocities in the early 1980’s in Argentina. It’s the latest from director Pablo Trapero, that has been critically acclaimed by Argentinian and international audiences alike.
Timing is important to understand the true horror of El Clan, as it takes place after the most tumultuous period of Argentina’s history in the 20th century. The movie opens up with old footage of newly elected president Raúl Alfonsín, presiding over the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons. The year is 1983 and Argentina has returned to democracy after seven years of military dictatorship. An estimated 30,000 people have disappeared from public life during this time, under the suspicion they are left-wing political dissidents. The grainy video ends with Alfonsín promising, “So never again hate, so never again violence.” The rest of El Clan will be a total refutation of that statement.
Cut to the seemingly perfect Puccio family. They live in the wealthy suburb of San Isidro, outside of Buenos Aires. Arquímedes Puccio (played masterfully by Guillermo Francella) is the grey-haired patriarch, who presents himself as stoic and initially harmless. Alejandro (Peter Lanzani) is the eldest son, currently enjoying the pinnacle of his youth: he’s the star of the local rugby club, popular among his peers and a hit with the ladies. The rest of the family, mother Epifanía (Lili Popovich) and four younger siblings, operate as background characters, but appear cheery nonetheless.“Sunny Afternoon” by the Kinks plays as the audience gets to know this family, and for two minutes everything is sunny. Until Arquímedes and Alejandro, donning masks, force Alejandro’s fellow rugby teammate into their car trunk at gunpoint.
From there, it is a downward spiral of a what becomes a routine: Arquímedes searches for wealthy people to kidnap, holds them hostage in the basement of the house and collects outrageous ransoms from their families. Arquímedes is not stoic or harmless; he is icy, manipulative and ultimately detached. Alejandro’s youth works against him, as he is easily influenced by his father’s persuasions. Their relationship dynamic throughout the film adds to the audience’s uneasiness as much as the horrific crimes they commit. Alejandro’s anxiety about their affairs continues to mount, while Arquímedes remains a monolith of evil.
Where the film falls short is in the development of the rest of the family. Screen time is relegated to the father and son, rarely catching the perspectives of the other children. Most unbelievable is that Epifanía had no suspicions of her husband for the three years this went on, was she truly oblivious? These people all lived in the same home, yet only two of the characters lives are explored.
Trapero keeps the aesthetics of the film looking neo-noir, transforming the leafy neighborhood of San Isidro into an eerie, low lit landscape. He keeps the audience attentive by mixing up the timeline and jumping back and forth between years. Vintage news clips are dispersed within the film, to give a sense of the political moment Argentina was in.
Perhaps the most delightful aspect of the film is the soundtrack. For a thriller, the choices are unconventional.“Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall”, a wistful jazz tune by Ella Fitzgerald and The Inkspots, makes a surprise appearance. Songs that are evocative of the era, like “Wadu Wadu” by Argentine pop band Virus and “Just a Gigolo” by David Lee Roth bring a dose of black humor to scenes, given their inappropriateness. Normally, juxtaposing a heavy scene with happy music detracts from a movies tone. It works here, because of the ridiculousness of the events taking place.It’s surprising it took thirty years to make a movie about the Puccios, considering their family history contains all the basic elements of a mob film. When the news broke about Arquímedes’ activities in the ‘80s, it shocked the nation. That interest is still present in the national consciousness, as Argentineans filled the theaters for it. While American audiences may not be aware of the background information, El Clan still is compelling as a standalone crime drama. It’s a reminder that some stories are just so crazy they have to be true.
Overall rating: B+
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