The Club turns the spotlight on disgraced clerics
Starring Roberto Farías. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable.
If you thought Spotlight went too soft on pedophilia in the Catholic Church, this is the movie for you. The club of this blandly titled but darkly disturbing Chilean effort is a retreat for defrocked priests; by extension, it includes the hierarchy of the church itself.
Directed by Pablo Larraín and written by him and two others, the film is immediately marked by the purposeful haziness of its exposition. (Its flare-ridden cinematography comes across as widescreen VHS.) We’re gradually introduced to a band of men hovering around the edges of La Boca, a forlorn seaside town on the wintry southern coast of Chile. They’ve been banished to this desolate place because of sexual abuse of children, and one priest (Jaime Vadell) was seemingly complicit with army torture under the Pinochet regime.
The men are looked after by an ever-smiling nun (Antonia Zegers, married to the director) who harbours her own secrets. She races their pet greyhound for extra booze money, and overall they live better than they should. That changes with the arrival of another disgraced cleric (José Soza), looking like an Old Testament patriarch but followed by a Santiago disciple (Roberto Farías) who yells out his specific crimes for all to hear. The church sends a young reformer (Marcelo Alonso) to investigate the ensuing mess, but things keep getting more complicated.
Most of the superb cast here was in Larraín’s previous and best-known feature, No, about the democratic defeat of Pinochet. There’s no doubt that the filmmaker is drawing parallels between unpunished government crimes and Catholic cover-ups. (His next effort will be about poet Pablo Neruda.) The Club’s unfolding is a marvel of carefully calibrated suspense, heightened by stark music from Arvo Pärt. But its final third is so burdened by metaphor and gruesome plot contrivance, viewers can be forgiven for wanting an early exit from the confessional.