‘The Clan,’ retells one of Argentina’s dark chapters

Courtesy Cinema Scope Online, TIFF 2015

For those who don’t know about the chilling case of the Puccios, an Argentine middle class family led by a former military man in the Argentine secret service, ‘The Clan’ is bringing a dark story from the end of Argentina’s Dirty War to a larger audience.

In the early 1980s, the Puccios’ patriarch led his older son Alejandro in being part of kidnapping four people and disappearing three of them for money. More than 30 years later, Pablo Trapero, winner of The Golden Lion for best director for his latest movie at the Venice Film Festival, has taken on the Puccios’ crimes in the somber, compelling ‘The Clan,’ an impeccable work that mixes historic footage with the daily horror inside an apparently normal family.

The film deals not only with the Puccios’ crimes, but with what happened inside the house, showing the dominant military father who forces his son Alejandro and his entire family into becoming silent witness to these horrifying kidnappings. Even after making this film, this case continues to be a mystery to Trapero.

“What I ask myself after I have made this movie and worked on all of the research is, basically, how was Arquímedes able to do that to his own family,” he says. “The cruelty that he had, in not only kidnapping and killing people close to his son Alejandro, but it also seems that Arquímede’s first victims were his own family.”

Guillermo Francella and Peter Lanzani in Pablo Trapero’s “The Clan.”

Arquímedes, played by Guillermo Francella, a local actor from the Oscar-winning ‘Secret In Their Eyes’, plans and gathers in a little notebook all the details of his kidnapping prospects, with the help of his older son Alejandro, a rugby star player, who helped abduct close friends that his fathers referred to as “guests” instead of victims.

For every line spoken referring to the crimes in this film, Arquímedes used everyday language to veil the criminal dimension of these acts. This horrible plan became part of his private life, as if carrying it out was like performing day-to-day house chores such as sweeping, or eating together with his family. The most chilling of the house scenes is when the father is simultaneously helping his daughter with math homework and then torturing a victim to get money from his family.

Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Trapero, whose other films include ‘El bonaerense’ (2002), ‘Leonera’ (2008), ‘Carancho’ (2010), el ‘Elefante blanco’ (2012), opened up a huge debate about how the Puccios’ abductions were state-approved, or even state-sponsored. This is a major step in reflecting on this uncertain moment of transition from the end of the dictatorships ruling Argentina, to the beginning of democracy, from 1983 to 1985.

Trapero felt that there weren’t enough movies about this period.

It was necessary to reflect on this period of time because, yes, there have been lots of movies that recount the dark years of the dictatorship, and there are also some movies on the beginning of democracy, but this this is the first movie that shows how difficult the transition was for us and how fragile the first roots of democracy were.

‘The Clan’, which opened in the US on March 18th, has come at a perfect time. Obama has just announced that Washington will more fully reveal its role in Argentina’s Dirty War. This week is also the 40th anniversary of the brutal 1976 coup that installed the military dictatorship that perpetrated this dark chapter, which the US initially supported.