Pablo Trapero’s El Clan (The Clan) focuses on the Puccios, a family who became infamous in the ’80s when it was revealed the Argentine clan had been kidnapping and extorting affluent families in Buenos Aires. Best described as a criminal thriller that doubles as a family tragedy, it focuses on the patriarch of the family, Arquimedes (Guillermo Francella) and his eldest son, famous rugby player Alex (Peter Lanzani), whose contacts through the Argentina National Rugby Union team secure the family an in with their future marks.
The second Argentine film produced jointly by K&S Films and El Deseo (the first one being the Oscar-nominated Relatos Salvajes), The Clan emerges as a thrilling look at a dark period in Argentina’s history. Arquimedes is presumed to have learned the tricks of kidnapping and disappearing bodies from his days working with the dictatorship’s secret service during the Dirty War. The cruel, dirty work he does is, we’re shown time and time again, for his family’s wellbeing, but as Alex begins to dream of a new life with his new girlfriend, he begins to second guess the necessity of that life of crime he has been cornered into. With plenty of ’80s hairdos and light pop rolas scoring the violent crimes in the film, The Clan is that rare critically acclaimed arthouse movie that plays like a blockbuster hit — not for nothing did it have the largest opening weekend of any Argentinean film in history.
With El Clan premiering in US theaters this week, we chatted with Trapero over the phone to talk about the movies’s challenges, its pop soundtrack, and the joy of winning the Silver Lion award for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival. Check out some highlights below.
UPDATE 7/7/2017: El Clan (The Clan) is now streaming on Netflix.
On Tackling This Challenging Story
“The more I read, I found that at the heart of the story was this father-son relationship between Alejandro and Arquimedes.”
The first time I thought about making this film was back in 2007. I was shooting Leonera and I started to see what I could find about this case. And I noticed something that while this had been a pretty big and important case, I didn’t have a lot of information about it. So that meant doing a lot of research, which took quite some time. And it became one of those things where, the more I learnt about the case, the more intriguing the film became. I talked to Alejandro’s friends, his rugby coach, his neighbors, lawyers who had been involved, the victims’ families. We even had access to official documents from the FBI that talked in a lot of detail about how it all went down, with testimonies from people involved. So that research process made the script stronger and stronger. And the more I read I found that at the heart of the story was this father-son relationship between Alejandro and Arquimedes. You know, over the criminal case, over the historical period I’d be tackling, above all, I knew there was going to be a portrait of the relationship between a father and a son. That’s the motivating engine of the film.
On Casting Guillermo Francella As Arquimedes
Well, so on top of the challenge of serving the story and honestly depicting this troubled part of Argentine history, another challenge was the fact of actually making the film with all its technical details. And that included the characterization of Puccio, who’s this very fascinating character in it of himself. So, early on I contacted Francella to see if he’d be interested in this project which wasn’t going to be a comedy, the genre he’s most associated with. I wanted to know if he would be up for crafting this type of movie villain that would just terrify audiences. Because at first he’s very nice and friendly but slowly he becomes this monster.
You can’t leave the film without being utterly unnerved by him. Now with the finished film, we can see that. But when we started the process it was one of the biggest challenges we faced. Specially because for those who know Guillermo, we’d have to push past his image and sort of have you believe he’s this character. And that meant tackling it from a technical point of view. He talks about this in interviews, but he changed his way of talking, his way of walking, his way of breathing. He loves telling an anecdote where I asked him to not blink. The thing is, the film was shot with all these long shots, and so what sounded like an easy request was a challenge because he had to focus on these technical things while also delivering the intense performance we needed. But really, we enjoyed the process.
On The Film’s Pop Soundtrack
“You get this contrast… where you see a rather intense scene being played out over this lighthearted, poppy tune from the ’80s.”
Well, I’ll tell you this. The music fulfills a number of roles in the film. Firstly, they help set the film in its period. They’re all songs from that era, from the specific years when the action takes place. And the other role it plays is, as you see in the film, that this was really the way they used music as this sort of torture. They had music blaring all day at home to drown out the victim’s screams. They didn’t use any recorded discs. They merely used whatever was on the radio. So naturally you get this contrast you see in the film, where you see a rather intense scene being played out over this lighthearted, poppy tune from the ’80s. It mirrors the period itself, when you had this fluffy pop music emerging at the same time as this type of violence was still taking place in Argentina.
On Winning The Silver Lion At the Venice Film Festival
Well, I have to say I was truly grateful. Curiously, I’d screened my first film at Venice and it went on to win lots of critical prizes there, and it really helped my career. It gave me a boost, for sure. So I was happy that that happened with Mundo Grúa. But of course to win the best director prize [the Silver Lion for The Clan] well, it’s unique. In fact, when they handed me the prize, they told me I was getting the prize that Fellini had won for I vitelloni. It really was very exciting. I am a great admirer of Italian cinema and I always feel at home when I head to Venice. And more than that, it’s actually a very beautiful prize in itself, the statue, I mean. It also stands as an example of what we see happening with The Clan. Because it was a giant box office hit in Argentina, which we then saw replicated in other countries. In Uruguay it was #1 for a couple of weeks, in Chile, in Germany. Now it just opened in France and did really well. And now it’s opening here in the U.S. But what we’ve seen is that it’s a film that seems to be resonating with both critics and audiences alike. It won, for example, the Audience Award in Miami [at the Miami International Film Festival’s new GEMS Festival], and it won an Honorable Mention for a Platform Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival. And those are, you know, very different audiences right there: Venice, Toronto, Miami. And that really makes me proud. Very proud.
This interview was conducted in Spanish and translated by the author for Remezcla. The Clan opens in limited release March 18, 2016. Visit theclanmovie.com for showtimes.