This super-creepy but also super-accomplished early-’80s-set Argentinian film is unlikely to screen anywhere next Father’s Day, unless as a sick joke. There are scary dads, and then there’s Arquímedes Puccio (Guillermo Francella, a terrifying dead-behind-the-eyes presence). The suburban Buenos Aires patriarch implicated his entire family in a series of kidnappings of their wealthy neighbours over a number of years, keeping his victims in the basement of his home so that they would suffer and scream below while the family sat down to dinner. Puccio’s crimes began as state-sponsored acts during the late 1970s military dictatorship but he continued under his own steam during the transfer to democracy – and one of the film’s big themes is how high-level corruption can seep down in horrible, unpredictable, painful ways.
Director Pablo Trapero (‘Lion’s Den’) recalls the case in gruesome, macabre detail, exploring it with energy and elan from the perspective of the family and focusing especially on Arquímedes’s fraught power relationship with his eldest son, Alejandro (Peter Lanzani).
‘The Clan’ shouldn’t be as enjoyable as it is. But it’s a delight to be in the hands of a storyteller who can impress you with his stylistic bravado (one sequence cuts together a nasty death with ecstatic sex) while never losing sight of the suffering at the story’s heart. It’s doubly interesting that the suffering is twofold: there’s the pain of the victims, of course, but there’s also the pain of Puccio’s relatives, themselves trapped and tortured in different ways. Next time you remember your dad being a bit of a pain, spare a thought for Arquímedes’s kids.