Pablo Trapero’s directorial signature has often been likened to Martin Scorsese, but his attempt with The Clan to fashion a stylish, retro crime drama in the manner of the American maestro falls largely flat.
Despite the inherently compelling subject matter – a seemingly conventional, middle-class family kidnapping and imprisoning rich citizens at the fag-end of Argentina’s “Dirty War” period – Trapero’s hackneyed, unrevealing treatment undersells the material’s rich potential. Practically the sole conceit of Trapero’s direction seems to be to play up the ironic contrast between the normal, almost banal, daily routine in the Puccio family household versus their maintenance of the latest kidnap victim in the cellar downstairs. Trapero’s default technique to portray these two polar operations of the Puccio family is to score them to a crashingly literal rock tune à la Scorsese (the Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’ gets flogged twice to this end).
Trapero’s better achievements in the film come through one or two fantastic cinematographic flourishes. Especially effective is a single-take, handheld sequence where the latest Puccio kidnapping on the streets of Buenos Aires goes horribly wrong. Also compelling is the central turn of Guillermo Francella as the father-figure of both the family upstairs and the criminal operation downstairs. It’s a masterclass in understated menace as Francella projects through mere look and gesture the full range of this man’s perverse devotion to his double life. Unfortunately, Trapero undersells these darker undertones of the film’s story for a more excitable focus on his retro, sub-Scorsese aesthetic.
An interesting story, uninterestingly told – Trapero’s take on an unusual tale of Argentine criminality from the 1980s won’t win any new converts to his country’s national cinema. Wrapped in the familiar grammar of many Hollywood crime films, perhaps the one saving grace of The Clan is its gripping kidnap sequences.
CAST: Guillermo Francella, Peter Lanzani, Lili Popovich, Gastón Cocchiarale
DIRECTOR: Pablo Trapero
WRITER: Pablo Trapero
SYNOPSIS: The Puccios – a seemingly upright Buenos Aires family in the early ’80s – harbour a dark secret: they kidnap and hold hostage rich members of Argentine society.