For a while now, I’ve regarded Chilean Pablo Larraín as one of the world’s great directors, after an impeccable trilogy of films – Tony Manero, No and Post Mortem – which found favour at festivals worldwide.
He has dissected his country’s society, politics and chequered history with a surgeon’s precision. With his new film The Club he turns his gaze on religion. It’s his most troubling yet.
It’s set in a remote unremarkable fishing village where four elderly priests live peaceably under one roof, rarely interacting with local residents. They live under a strict schedule, which is administered by a nun named Sister Monica. The set-up is finally baffling until the arrival of a fifth priest, Father Lazcano. Barely has he arrived than a hysterical man who knows him arrives and starts shouting accusations at him. His reaction to this verbal onslaught sets the story in motion.
It becomes clear that all the priests have been accused of sexual abuse in their past and have been placed in this hideaway by church authorities, who simply wanted them to disappear. Effectively they are living with impunity, though banished from their communities. But the incident with Father Lazcano puts paid to that uneasy situation, and a zealous Jesuit investigator Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso) arrives to ask probing questions – and ultimately to get the refuge closed down.
These apparently harmless old men – they train and race local greyhounds to make a little money – come to be seen in a different light as events unfold. One of them, Father Vidal (an astonishingly contained performance by Alfredo Castro) remains calm while the others become increasingly uneasy.
This is a tough, unremitting film that offers little hope or optimism. But Larraín creates a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere that leaves you forgetting to breathe. It’s a riveting experience, and a jolting one.
The Club, directed by Pablo Larraín, is in UK cinemas now #TheClubFilm.
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