SWISS ARMY MAN

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano
SWISS ARMY MAN (2016)
Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano

Seeing a movie that is playing to a packed audience and gauging their reactions to the string of scenes being displayed out in front of them and witnessing their — and my own — laughs, which happened by the plenty right up until the movie got too creepy for its own good, almost makes me not want to write this review. What for? It doesn’t really matter what I think; the truth of the matter is, the audience will be the one to decide. I should know. Many times I’ve gone to see something that made critics rave and all but explode in a litany of praises that made me wonder what the heck was it that they saw that I couldn’t see, or was I too dumb to appreciate a good movie when I saw one?

Clearly, the audience wins in this case. They ran with the scatological images and sounds that the directors seemed to provide at a rate of one per minute with brief pauses in between gave space to commentaries on life, sex, and The Meaning of It All. And all this happened while Paul Dano’s Hank and his dead buddy Manny (Daniel Ratcliffe, clearly in on the fun and distancing himself even more from Harry Potter as his character’s body gets used as a vessel closer to the stuff of tall tales) escape the island at the start of the movie (by the power of farts alone, yes, you read that) and land in some remote wooded area that suggests perhaps the Northwest. And I have to say, for almost its entire run, I ran with the jokes myself. You really have to see it to do a WTF. I won’t even dare spoil it for you; it’s that flat-out weird you can’t react in any other way but with nervous, then straight out, balls to the wall laughter.

The point where the movie goes a little creaky, however, arrives at the place where Hank starts to place less emphasis on being rescued and more emphasis on bonding and even remaining in the woods with Manny. We find out that Hank is a compulsive loner unable it seems to relate to anyone outside of his own self, The girl in Manny’s cellphone (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is someone Manny used to date. Hank then concocts a way to use this image to somehow propel Manny’s apparently superhuman corpse to civilization. I really can’t do justice to the barrage of scenes that constitute Swiss Army Man’s middle section. You really have to witness this and judge for yourself. Let’s just say, therapy doesn’t have to involve sitting on a psychiatrist’s bench. Oh, no. The Daniels (as the directors refer to themselves) have a lot more meta-story up on their sleeve.

At surface value Swiss Army Man is beyond ridiculous once you get past the solid first forty minutes and settle in to see just how all this will play out. When you realize that — and I’m not ruining anything — the entire thing may be a twisted allegory of extreme isolation, if you don’t cringe like I did, then something is definitely amiss. Don’t get me wrong — this is a pretty good movie that just doesn’t deserve to be known as the one where the dead body farts and does things no dead body should ever do. There is a lot more going on with Paul Dano’s character alone that merits a close look. If you can get past the unhinged presentation (unique in itself), you have yourself a disturbing comedy that reveals just how twisted it is towards its finale. You might blame its fierce adhering to its comedic sensibilities that Hank’s situation becomes somewhat trivialized and reduced to the stuff of a horny but super awkward teenager. I think it actually enhances it (and we see just how, all over Winstead’s face).

See Swiss Army Man for yourself.  By the end you will have walked out having seen a completely different picture that defies categories.

WIENER-DOG

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

wiener-dog-greta-gerwig-banner

I think it’s safe to say that watching a Todd Solondz movie isn’t exactly a pleasurable experience. There’s always the sense that you watched something subversive dressed in a deft appearance of quirk, people who live alienated even from themselves, afraid to really reach out. While nothing here is as transgressive as some of the elements of, let’s say, his 1998 movie Happiness, Solondz happily presents a series of vignettes where the sole presence of a dachsund manages to somehow upset or alter the existences of the people with whom it comes in contact to. I’m going to safely infer that this is not the same dachsund, or that the poor dog is caught in a loop of scenarios and we’re only privy to the four that Solondz presents to us (with a faux intermission exactly 45 minutes in, the halfway mark), because not mentioned but felt — sensed — is the feeling that what we as viewers are witnessing is a warped meta-reality that changes once the desired effect is over, like a vaguely perverse kaleidoscope. Where the dog, called Wiener-dog in the first sequence, upends a rather sterile household led by a frazzled Tracy Letts and a neurotic Julie Delpy (who has the task of explaining the matters of life and death to her recovering son), the same gets abducted by a gawky, uber-shy Greta Gerwig portraying the character Heather Matarazzo played in Welcome to the Dollhouse who in turn goes on a road trip with a guy (Kieran Culkin) she reconnects with, with some sweet results despite hints of drug use and instability). The same dog makes it appearance again as Danny deVito’s pet, and while it has less to do — mainly, this is deVito playing an out of touch writer/professor, it does have an uproarious sequence of mistaken terrorist device that points towards a post 9-11 hysteria.

It’s in the final sequence where Solondz shows his feral grin and it’s a doozy. Without telling much about it, I think it’s safe to say that whatever Solondz was trying to say is compressed in this one mini-story. The dog’s name is Cancer, but that’s not the point: it’s the artificiality of life itself: Ellen Burstyn, robed and under thick sunglasses, croaks and acts like a miser while revealing she posed nude once. Her niece has come to visit, she says she has a part in a movie, but really, she needs money for her boyfriend named Fantasy who’s an artist who hates –HATES — to be compared to Damien Hirst. In a surreal twist, Fantasy and Burstyn’s maid Ivette are dressed in almost identical pink and khaki colors (that may have been an in-joke only Solondz will know about). Once Burstyn’s niece and Fantasy exit the scene, she is faced by clones of the person she could have been “if…” which somewhat echoes the previous storyline where De Vito’s character has become stagnant in his “what if…” approach to storytelling. I’m not going to say how this plays out, but suffice to say, it is as demented as twisted as anything Solondz has ever done and then some. Suffice to say that he doesn’t just go right over the edge — he dives headlong right into it, and ends the film in an exclamation point.

Caveat emptor!

MY LOVE, DON’T CROSS THAT RIVER

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

mylove016

The ghost of Yazujiro Ozu fills the observing eye that is director Jin Mo-young’s, capturing the tiniest moment of quotidian domestic activities in this often humorous, but ultimately heartbreaking documentary My Love, Don’t Cross that River. Husband and wife Jo Byong-man and Kang Gye-yeul have been together since she was 14 and he was about 20. They have been through the worst of times together, struggled through poverty, raised six out of twelve children, (some who make brief appearances here for Kang’s birthday, an event that ends in tears, implying some prior, off-screen family dysfunction), and now live alone, in near peaceful solitude, going through simple activities like lovers who just met and are still entranced by each others presence. Watching them play through the snow, splash each other with river water, or exchange chrysanthemums as Jo sings to Kang is moving, indeed. One not need to know the language or even pause to read the subtitles; as a matter of fact, I found myself entranced by the sheer expression of love that these two, who have been together for 75 or 76 years (they can’t quite remember), could express to each other. So, imagine what happens as Jo’s health declines and they go through the loss of one dog (Kiddo, a poodle) and see another one, whom they call Freebie, give birth to seven puppies. It’s a slow, but resigned march to the inevitable, one that Kang knows well. While she says she accepts what has to eventually happen, one cannot be prepared for the sheer outpour of emotion that overwhelms the camera and lingers on — again, much in the style of Ozu — as she begins the process of mourning. This is one of the most devastating “little movies” I’ve seen in a long time. If you see it, have a box of Kleenex handy, and do tell your loved ones how much they are worth to you. If anything, this remarkable documentary is evidence of the power of love (as cliche as it may sound), but also, the frailty of life itself.

THE FITS

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

Royalty Hightower in The Fits. Image by Variety.

Without sounding like a snob I want to confess something. Reader, I’ve seen a lot of movies. I don’t mean several hundred — that’s barely a calendar year from new releases, film festivals, and home releases. I’m talking about movies in the thousands, enough to pack a video store if they were in style.

When you can lay this claim about yourself you reach a point where you start looking for alternative forms of narration on camera, movies that are a little different from the mainstream. This is not to say mainstream cinema is bad — but when you see the same tired archetypes over and over again and now with the market saturated with colossal blockbusters retelling the same superhero story that always winds up with more reboots . . . well, to the art-theater you go.

The Fits came out as an official selection at New Directors, New Films back in March and I missed it by a fraction, so when it got its own release at Metrograph — a new movie theater for art-house lovers all the way on the LES — I rushed to see it. Reader, go see this marvelous film while it’s held over until the weekend of July 4th. This right here, is pure cinema, a story told with little dialogue, with characters that express through dance and feeling, meta-narration at its best.

Before we see her, we hear her: Toni, doing sit ups and pull ups at a boxing gym where her brother practices. Her face is a mask of pure determination, her body already lean and tomboyish, her hair in tight braids. She doesn’t say a word, even on the way home. At school we see her carrying some huge bag as though it were a cross over her shoulder; walking slowly in sharp contrast to the dance troupe she discovers and that ignites her interest. Friendships materialize out of thin air, and while Toni’s dance movements are heavy with boxing references, she starts “getting it” and even pierces her ears in order to feel more a part of the group of older women she clearly admires.

The Fits takes a takes a slow left turn, however, when one of the dance troupe instructors comes down with uncontrollable shaking and barely able to breathe. No one knows why it happened, and Toni’s friend Beezy suggests it may be epilepsy. Other girls also come down with what gets called “the fits” and the media alludes that the water may be unsafe to drink. But what does this have to do with Toni, proper, or her new found friends? Is every female under 18 at school going to fall under the spell of the fits?

Anna Rose Holmer leaves her debut film in a shroud of ambiguity that clearly went over well with the audience at the screening I saw: there was a collective mind-set of “getting it”, even when we kept seeing a sense of nascent horror creep into the fabric of the story. The Fits, with its casual sense of humor and visual incursions into poetry and surrealism (especially at the moving end sequence, a wonderful immersion into Toni’s mind that elevates the entire story out of its semi-darkness as the entire cast of girls dance, clothed in blue and gold) is closer to performance art itself than an traditional picture. So much of it relies on the non-verbal movements of Royalty Hightower who is on camera practically all throughout its run. This is a girl who can convey so much emotion into her oval face, she would be, I think, ill-serviced by rote dialogue that would verbally express what her character is going through in the awkwardness of childhood. The Fits might not be to everyone’s liking but if you discover it, you will have in your hands a wonderful piece of work.

FROM AFAR

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

He’s a loner. An older man of few words who works repairing dentures and seems to have a fragile but polite relationship with his briefly seen sister. The camera opens to Armando walking the seedier area of Caracas, Venezuela, following a lean, dark-skinned boy into a bus and offering him a wad of cash. No words exchanged, just cash. Cut to Armando, sitting on a couch in his dark apartment, emotionless, empty eyes, telling the boy to take his shirt off, and lower his pants to just below his glutes. Off-screen, the sound of rubbing, which should by now tell you what this is about, followed by some sterile moans, and then his crisp, curt voice, telling the hustler to leave.

Armando meets another hustler and this time things don’t go as planned: the boy, Elder (Luis Silva, wiry and coltish) is a mass of reactions first followed by very little thought. He’s not as submissive as the others; when Armando takes him back to his place the scene ends with violence and theft and Armando with a black eye.

Still, he remains impassive, unperturbed, and empty. When he’s not following Elder around in ways that clearly cross the line between simple masochistic interest and veer deep into the perturbed, he quietly stalks his father, who seems to be some highly paid executive. In the interim, after Elder gets beaten by some thugs, Armando takes him in and both begin a very ginger dance of older man as mentor and younger man as protegee (willing or not). Conversations are stiff, stilted, but eventually reveal layers of depth: both have absentee fathers.

An act of theft from the still ready to run Elder segues into an act of defiance that shifts the balance of power between him and Armando. Elder begins to demonstrate hints of affection, a thing that doesn’t go unnoticed by both his pals and his mother who sees right through the two’s acquaintance and guesses correctly, throwing him out of the house. And at the fringes of the movie, Armando’s father, an office executive going through his business as Armando observes from a distance.

Much like Laszlo Nemes’ Son of Saul, Lorenzo Vigas’ From Afar (Desde alla) doesn’t give you more information than you need and plays its cards tightly against its chest. Dialog is minimal at best, and more information is passed along by glances, hints, non-verbal cues. Even then, this sense of walking in the dark and knowing only what one needs to know is suspense at its best, because from the get-go, by its very nature, the relationship between Armando and Elder wouldn’t go past a transaction and a cold, sexual act. Vigas, however, has other intentions up his sleeve, and as all of the pieces start to show up, a clearer picture of what the real story is about starts to form.

From Afar is as nihilistic and ugly as the location where it takes place. Armando discloses so little, but his actions say much more, and reveal a man about to burst in anger for some unknown harm (there is the implication he’s a victim of sexual abuse, or something truly awful), but so restrained that his one scene of dominance and aggression comes as a revelation precisely because he’s so far presented himself as a man who seems to want nothing, care for no one, exist to live and just that. Alberto Castro, recently seen in Chile’s The Club also playing a tormented gay man, is restrained to a fault, disclosing next to  nothing about himself, his family, even why he continues to pursue Elder. If anything, this is also a story of trust — trust established after a long, uncomfortable mating dance, cemented, and then smashed into a million little pieces. Vigas’ debut film is a lightning bolt that gives a strong voice to a country like Venezuela, a country who tends not to register in the US (although that trend seems to be reversing thanks to 2015’s El LIbertador). Like Eastern Boys with whom it has been compared (and which was a part of the 2014 Rendezvous with French Cinema selection), it brings forth a slice of gay life that tends to be set aside in lieu of lighter fare. Highly recommended.

THE WAILING

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Horrific acts of violence are striking a small, isolated South Korean town. In one instance, a man has slashed his family to pieces and now sits mute, zombie-like, with eyes rolled to the back of his head and his skin festered with boils. In another instance, a woman has burned down  her house and instead of giving into the authorities seems to act possessed. In the middle of all this, two people who will later confront each other: a Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who keeps to himself, but may be the harbinger of disaster, and a bumbling police detective (Do Won Kwak) whose very own ineffectiveness leads him on the trail of the Japanese man who lives in the woods. Add to this that a disease seems to be affecting other townsfolk (and in one gruesome sequence, taking over their bodies  until they snap and die), and that now this same disease has the detective’s home. Such is the tableau that Na brings to us in his complex horror entry The Wailing.

Na creates a pretty rich story of comedic situations that foreshadow the almost insane levels of horror that will come to roost, fester, and spread out like a virus in his unnamed town. At times, it can be a little too broad, especially when it involved the misadventures of Jong-Goo (Kwak), but as the real story emerges, and otherworldly details begin to take center space, The Wailing becomes a ferocious tale of good and evil not unlike The Exorcist — instead here, the forces battling for the soul of a little girl (Jong-Goo’s daughter) happen to be shamans, and we’re never sure if they come in peace or are demons in human form. And there are three of them.

So many unexplained and undefined presences can be distracting in a genre that allows for only one bad guy, but the set pieces work quite well in Na’s movie. After all, when bad things happen, they come in threes. Pity the townsfolk who are completely unprepared to fight it.

THE ONES BELOW

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

https://youtu.be/61lV8jaD_cI

Domestic bliss becomes a living hell in this taut little British thriller. Kate and Justin are a young couple expecting their first baby who live by themselves on the top floor of a duplex apartment in London, This quickly changes when out of the blue another couple moves in and quickly transforms the rear of the apartment into a rather sleek hangout where the wife, Theresa, lounges under the sun while her husband Jon conducts business and remains mostly unseen. Wanting to get to know the neighbors Kate starts up a friendship with Theresa and learns that she too is also pregnant. One evening close to both women’s due dates, during dinner, the cracks of this frail, incipient friendship start to show and grow rapidly when after Kate makes an offhand comment about pregnancy (she wasn’t sure she wanted a baby), Theresa reveals that she has been trying several times to have a baby. Things become tense as Theresa and Jon prepare to leave; she’s been drinking rather heavily, and on her way out she trips over herself and takes a tumble down the stairs. Accusations fly against one another, Theresa denies drinking, Jon blames Justin for not fixing the light in the stairway, and soon enough, we learn that she has miscarried once again.

This is just the setup of this rather clever little domestic thriller. Relationships based on superficial situations tend to have a poor foundation. It only takes a situation where no one, really, is to blame, to spiral things out of control, and when Kate and Justin attempt to make amends with their neighbors they make it clear they are leaving and wish no more contact.

However, the story takes some other twists and turns that I would rather not disclose even despite some obvious references to other pictures involving mothers in peril. Suffice it to say, The Ones Below establishes a slow burn dread factor that constantly places both Kate and Justin in a constant sense of unease, and while some elements towards the final minutes seem to be a bit much (and almost take the film into horror), David Farr’s screenplay doesn’t cheat and instead opts to go into the darkest route possible. You will never see your neighbors the same way again.

THE LOBSTER

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

Yorgos Lanthimos is that type of director you either love, because you get him and what he’s about, or hate because you go to one of his features and walk out either in the middle or at the end, either times scratching your head and demanding your money back. I’ve only seen Dogtooth, and as uncomfortable as that movie made me it felt both nightmarish but real given the fact that we have had compounds in Utah that isolate their people on purpose, intent on forming a twisted sense of family.

The Lobster keeps sex at its most awkward and perfunctory in the foreground of its plot. This time, it focuses less on a family per se (although the concept arises as a risible alternative later on) but the hunt (if you will) for a mate. Colin Farrell is David (and the only named character here), a bespectacled, slightly pudgy man who arrives at an unnamed hotel where he seeks to find a partner in life. With him, his dog, who was his brother and a previous guest at the hotel. His brother was unable to find a partner in 45 days given to him by the hotel management and thus was changed into the animal of his choice.

This is the same predicament that now David faces: find someone before the clock hits zero, or get turned into an animal for life. David flatly chooses a lobster. His reason? Lobsters are great at spawning.

If this isn’t weird enough, you have to see just how far The Lobster goes into creating scene after scene of the stuff Luis Bunuel would have approved of. Farrell goes to great lengths to preserve his humanity as he navigates the strict rules of the hotel, such as, eating with one arm chained behind him or going on raids among the grounds searching for “loners” to gain extra days– people who it seems left the hotel premises and have banded together to form a rebel group. In many ways, The Lobster is two movies in one. Once David has a violent encounter with a heartless woman he chooses as his partner (if at all to avoid an uncertain transmogrification) after she does the unthinkable to hurt him, the movie shifts gears and lands him squarely in the hands of the loners.

The problem? David finds love in the character of Rachel Weisz . . . but the situation is just as bad on the outside as it is on the inside.

Lanthimos’ movie is a comedic nightmare with pitch-black humor and glimpses of pathos peppered among the ridiculous. Anchored by Farrell’s performance as the self-effacing and ultimately self-sacrificing David, it manages to be both a romance — if at all, a strange one — but also, one where people are bound together not by what qualities they bring to one another but their lacks and faults, be it physical or personality-wise. It might be a tad long for its own good, though. It seems as though Lanthimos was rather enamored of his own story and somehow wanted to get as much in, in order to see for himself where the story would itself go. That it ends not with Farrell but with Rachel Weisz and an inaudible question mark only adds to its absurdist nature. Watch for Lea Seydoux, John C Reilly,  Ben Whishaw, and Olivia Colman (in a scene stealing role as the hotel manager). Highly recommended only if you enjoy these kind of movies.

BANG GANG (A MODERN LOVE STORY)

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

The opening shot pretty much tells you what you should expect in Eva Husson’s debut feature film Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) which was part of this year’s official selection for Rendezvous with French Cinema (and one of the few I was unable to attend to, preferring instead to stick with the more ethnically diverse Dheepan and Fatima, among others). We see a dizzying array of young teens seen in an increasingly complex yet mesmerizing combination of sexual poses lounging around a country manor followed by the voice of the narrator, Alex (Finnegan Oldfield, also seen earlier in Neither Heaven or Earth and the upcoming Les Cowboys) starts with his voiceover narration that then flashes back to how “the summer of Bang Gang” came to be.

Turns out, Alex lives in this sumptuous house alone with his absent mother who is somewhere in Morocco. He and his friend Nikita who also rooms with him meet  up with two schoolgirl friends Laetitia and George. Alex sizes up Laetitia to be ugly solely based on her looks (she’s a demure brunette) while he sexes it up immediately with George, a frail Bardoesque blonde. Nikita and Laeitia don’t seem to have a lot of chemistry with one another and remain in the sidelines. Even so, the foursome come up with creating the Bang Gang at Alex’s house — drug-infused sex parties where everything goes and all from school are welcome to let loose. At the fringes of the foursome is another schoolboy, Gabriel, a loner who has a thing for composing synth music.

The somewhat meandering plot takes some interesting turns. Alex and Laetitia ultimately hook up in the middle of one of his sex parties where he tells George to leave (she doesn’t, not immediately, as the sex her mode of escape and validation), but the girl’s friendship fractures and remains so. Party after party happens until the balloon breaks and George, who by now has become ferociously promiscuous, falls ill with syphilis.

I have heard comparisons to Kids but other than the ages of these teenagers I don’t quite see it. Eva Husson’s movie treats the subject matter rather casually, without shock or titillation, but she also doesn’t lambaste your eyes with it to a point that it almost becomes unwatchable. Quite the contrary, there is enough drama between all of the characters to keep the story moving. There is a constant of either a remote parent, as in the case of Alex and Nikita, or parents who are somewhat distant or at odds such as with Laetitia and George. Gabriel’s father is shown in one scene to be disabled.

Of the characters I found Laetitia and George to be a lot more complicated than what their looks entail. Laetitia presents herself as a virgin at the start of the movie and even when we see her having sex with Alex, later on, when she has to reveal her sexual history, she continues to reaffirm she;s a virgin (which backfires badly in more than one way). George, apparently charming and confident is actually quite vulnerable and as her character disappears midway through the movie (while Alex and Laeitia are dating and hosting) only to reappear ready for self-destructive debauchery, she has one quick scene that establishes just how insecure and lonely she is. Right after she catches Alex with yet another girl — this time a blonde (we only see the back of her head) she seems to go into a sad haze. Seconds later the music fills the space of the action and she’s diving forward into the demise of her own reputation.

I do think that the way Husson chose to resolve the story was both good — every character’s storyline gets wrapped up in the end — but at the same time, it happens too cleanly. To me, it seems as a slight afterthought that a pill and an injection, as one character mentions, can take it all away and while today’s advances might make it surely possible it also defuses a little of the consequences of such debauchery. Even so, Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) is a sharp debut that serves as a cautionary reminder that a moment of sexual pleasure can forever, through disease and YouTube, create a tidal wave of consequences that will forever haunt a person.

NEW ON DVD: THE CLUB

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

 

Pablo Larrain is a director to pay close attention to. In under a decade he’s brought critically acclaimed films of the likes of Post-Morten, Tony Manero, No (Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Picture for 2012), and has also produced Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus, Gloria, and last year’s Nasty Baby. In his petrifying drama The Club he again draws on events in Chile. This time he ventures beyond the confines of the Pinochet era which defined some of his earlier pictures and goes full Spotlight and then an extra step into the heart of darkness of what should be the messengers of God on Earth.

When The Club opens we see four older men engaging in betting on dog racing. It’s nothing out of the ordinary until we realize who they are: disgraced ex-priests who live in societal exile in La Boca, each one of them accused of a myriad of crimes ranging from the predictable (pedophilia) to the shocking (child abduction from unwed-teenage mothers, an actual incident which took place in 2014). Presiding over them, a former nun (Antonia Zegers) with the looks of a formidable Dame Judith Anderson. She’s all soft speeches and maternal instincts, but look closer. She’s basically their jailer and amidst her suave demeanor lies someone just as monstrous as the rest of them. We have entered what is called Hell on Earth.

The arrival of a fifth priest serves as the catalyst for the procedural that follow: After his presence attracts a local homeless man who goes by the moniker Sandokan who one morning startles the entire block with a torrent of utterings where he discloses that the priests’ home is a house of pedophiles and sex offenders of all sorts (but mainly homosexuals), the fifth priest commits a shocking act attempting a confrontation that explains that he may have been the man responsible for driving Sandokan mad and lusting for revenge and something akin to a perverted sense of closure. This then attracts yet another priest — Father Garcia, played by the impossibly beautiful Marcelo Alonso. Garcia has come not just to inquire of the tragic events surrounding the fifth ex-priest, but to possibly close down the house.

Garcia has high morals, and even higher ideals of creating a new church, closer to faith, and eliminating what doesn’t work. Of course, this is better said than done, and Pablo Larrain masterfully creates a sense of a detective story through the interviews Garcia sustains with each priest. Except for the oldest, a man who seems to be senile, none of them exhibit any remorse for their actions. When the camera touches on Alberto Castro’s face as he recounts his love for young boys and claims to be above that, we can clearly see the internal torment, but also his shameless, arrogant lying self, and it’s a terrific performance for an actor playing a despicable character who isn’t moved by pity, and whose scenes involving his greyhound imbue him with a faint degree of primitive humanity. Tensions begin to arise within the other priests and Garcia who threatens their existence, and at the fringes of the story, the ruined beyond repair Sandokan, a reminder of the many damaged people the Church has left behind in the name of religion.

Sandokan has initiated a relationship with a local woman, but his psyche rages, broken, as he continues to lash out verbally at the priest’s gate, decrying their own past sins of the flesh. Garcia, the sole person who still seems to have a soul, has gone nowhere in his inquiries and starts to see, upon meeting Sandokan himself, the beginnings of what could be a fitting punishment for the men who damaged not just him but every other young boy. It’s a savage, almost unbearable decision, but one that shows the Church itself eating its tail to preserve its head in an act of perverted sacrifice. Larrain, thus, accomplishes just as much as the movie Spotlight did in not just uncovering the layers of corruption within the Church but the lengths that it will go to protect itself and mete only a tiny fraction of justice the maimed. And what does it say that at the end, there is no one to root for — not even Garcia, who has become just as monstrous as the rest of them? What can we do but reluctantly side with the worst possible person — Castro’s ruined man — in an emotionally devastating sequence right at the end?

The Club is a  movie without a satisfying ending and because of it, it becomes compulsive to watch. It is a fascinating study of men unwilling to bend to the laws of justice, unfeeling to the pain of others. This is a rather bleak picture, but oh what colors, what powerful darkness it carries within. Pablo Larrain may have just annotated his best feature film yet, even when his own Neruda has  not yet seen a theater past Cannes.