There are some stories out there that are so ridiculous that it can be difficult to believe that they actually happened. This is often how Hollywood and independent filmmakers alike have been able to bring so many unique narratives to the silver screen. The Clan is writer/director Pablo Trapero and co-writers Julian Loyola and Esteban Student's crime drama that was chosen as Argentina's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar category. This year must have been a bad one for film in Argentina if it was decided that The Clan was thought to be the best. There's an intriguing story buried somewhere here, but it's told in a way that's dull, predictable, and without a single bit of tension.
Following the true story of the Puccio Clan in the 1980s, Arquímedes (Guillermo Francella) supported his family by kidnapping and demanding ransom for the victims' safe return. By taking advantage of the victim's closest family members, the Clan killed all those who had been kidnapped once they received the money. Arquímedes is completely driven by his greed, as he manipulates all those around him.
Since the film takes the time to introduce each member of the family, it isn't outrageous to expect some type of character arcs to become apparent at some point. However, soon after introductions are made, some roles fall off and others simply continue what they're doing without any sign of development. The screenplay does a poor job in crafting intriguing characters that we want to spend 110 minutes with. We know that they aren't good people, but absolutely nothing is done to evolve the predictable roles past made-for-TV levels. It simply tells the story without any attempt to get in the minds of the characters. The perspective from which we view the story is Alejandro Puccio's (Peter Lanzani), who feels more like a caricature than an actual person. I don't mind not having a central character that we necessarily love, but we aren't even given enough of a reason to dislike or fear him. Yes, they are kidnappers and murderers, but otherwise, we know nothing of who they are or what makes them so deranged. The mother and the children are all there for looks, as they never say more than a few words of dialogue at a given time. The screenplay tosses all characters to the side in an attempt to tell what feels more like a dramatization of the events that feels like they belong on the ID Channel.
The overall tone has a massive impact on a film, especially when it comes to a crime drama. There are so many depictions of this genre, allowing it to go in several different directions. Trapero doesn't hesitate to pass by every single one of these possibly intriguing outlets. Rather, he presents The Clan in a way that lacks energy or any sense of an impact. While it attempts to create some tension through the second act, when Alejandro begins to question whether or not he wants this to be his future. However, since we were never made to care about his story, the suspense is completely diminished. We know exactly where the plot is going long before it actually takes any of the twists and turns. The Clan often feels self-indulgent in the fact that it acts as if it's doing a necessary duty by telling us about this true story, but it actually blurs the lines with countless other similar stories out there. It never stops for a moment to generate tension, character arcs, or show us why it's so important for us to have seen this story. Unfortunately, this is something that will be forgotten within the month.
Since the plot jumps around a lot, the timeline can be a bit confusing to follow, as it jumps back and forth between years. Those who are somewhat familiar with the country's history will appreciate some of the sub-text created regarding the horrors that took place under the regime. Trapero introduces some hints of politics, as Arquímedes occasionally discusses business with some powerful players. Nevertheless, this leads us to a conclusion that one could guess without even knowing the story prior to seeing the film. It once again falls under the conventions of every biographical crime drama, along with text at the end to bring us up to the present. Trepero quickly tries to tie it all back to family, rather than the crimes that were committed. He never seems sure which goal he is trying to achieve, causing him to do a poor job at pursuing either one. Despite an incredibly dramatic conclusion, there wasn't an ounce of emotion to be found in the crowd at the AFI FEST 2015 screening. The severe lack of clapping goes to show how unimpressive this film really is.
Perhaps one of the only strengths that the film has is the performance of Guillermo Francella in the role of Arquímedes Puccio. This is an appropriately cold and dark portrayal that adds some additional personality to the character. If the screenplay was better, this could have been a powerhouse performance. He was perfectly cast, as he has the screen presence to be insanely intimidating. Unfortunately, the writing instantly diminishes all of the emotion that he builds up. The remainder of the performances are fine, although I'm sure that they all could have made more out of better written dialogue and characters. Even so, Francella deserves to be recognized for this impressive performance that stands as the only highlight in the film.
It continues to amaze me how a film like The Clan could be selected as the Oscar submission for the country of Argentina. Yes, it checks the boxes of being political and based on a true story, but it's a terrible film that doesn't even manage to muster an ounce of tension. The story concept itself is interesting, but Trapero resorts to walking the safe path of making it similar to every other biographical crime drama out there. There isn't a single character to connect with, as it quickly abandons the study that could have taken place of this family that killed numerous people. Guillermo Francella's performance is quite strong, but even that isn't enough to save the screenplay's unforgivable faults. The Clan is an insultingly forgettable film without any sense of direction. Skip it.
The Clan played at AFI FEST 2015 on November 6th and November 11th.