“We live in a world that treats the dead better than the living. We, the living are askers of questions and givers of answers, and we have other grave defects unpardonable by a system that believes death, like money, improves people”, once wrote the Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano in his book ‘Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent‘.
History of Latin America is a sequence of coup d’états followed by some shy attempts to install democracy and bring some social justice to its people. The consequences of a right-wing dictatorship can disrupt community cohesion, generate mistrust in legal authorities, and promote conflict resolutions that muffle protests. The Clan charts the recent history of Argentina via a middle-class family, whose business consisted of kidnapping people.
The film opens with archive images soon after the fall of General Jorge Rafael Videla in 1981. Videla’s regime was nicknamed “dirty war”, because government opponents were routinely brought to detention centers in secret. Once in custody, the prisoners’ punishment included beatings, torture, rape and death. Arquimedes Puccio, magnificently played by Guillermo Francella, belonged to the State Intelligence Department and used a domineering control of his family – the clan, in other words – to keep his victims in his own house. His practices continued even after Videla’s regime had collapsed, because for a time he had the tacit protection of police to do it.
What is horrifying in Pablo Trapero’s vision of the clan is not the violence itself, but the concept that the lives of torturers are full of joy, prosperity and dreams like any other middle-class family. Arquimedes’ eldest son Alejandro Puccio (Peter Lanzani) was a famous rugby player for Los Pumas. The film portrays his acts of violence as one of the aspects of his ordinary life; after all, he was an admired athlete, who enjoyed good music and had fun like any other teenager.
To conspire with this vision that it is ok to commit cruel acts and get along with life, Trapero built a superb 1980s’ atmosphere in every detail, including music. The soundtrack is joyful and memorable, going from The Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’ to Charly García’s ‘Encuentro con el Diablo’.
But things start to get wrong for the clan. Alejandro was not happy with the killings – one of the dead guys played rugby with him. Sometimes, the kidnapper’s relatives would deny paying ransom, and Arquimedes resorted to extreme measures. During the dictatorship, pregnant women were held until they gave birth and killed afterwards. The babies were usually handed over to military couples, or couples with military connections. The grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo is a human rights organisation with the goal of finding the children stolen and illegally adopted under such conditions.
It is significant that Puccio’s family got caught after kidnapping a sexagenarian rich woman. Her family resisted in paying the ransom, and that makes us think about machismo in Argentina. Was it because she was old and woman and therefore disposable? Either way, Puccio was finally caught.
The film ends abruptly with a tragic event that happened during the trial of the clan. It doesn’t follow the verdict, the consequent imprisonment and the fate of the family members. It is very relevant that Trapero opted for that end. It gives the sense that justice did not prevail at all. For how long can a manipulative and violent father control his family? For how long can a military dictatorship endure in people’s life even after it falls?
The Clan won prestigious awards in Venice and Toronto in 2015, as well as a Goya prize as best Ibero-American film in its hometown. It was part of the Argentine Film Festival in London, and it is now showing in cinemas in Curzon Home Cinema – just click here for more information.
You can also watch the film trailer below: