|'The Club settles for familiar motifs both within and outside of the religious framework and as such advances the discussion around its topic only a little'|
The Club, directed by Pablo Larraín, most familiar to Western audiences for No, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, has a nice idea. Opening on four priests living in a house on the Chilean coast, the film depicts how the Catholic Church handles its dirty secrets, through the microcosm of this retreat-cum-penance spa. Our four subjects, introduced to us quickly and cleanly by Larraín, have committed a range of sins; from homosexuality to baby swapping amongst parish members. In their new lot in life they are assigned a similarly penitent nun, Sister Mónica (Antonia Zegers), whose job it is to keep them on the straight and narrow and, it quickly emerges, ensure word of their crimes is kept subdued.
Through that setup Larraín introduces conflict in the shape of new arrival Father Lazcano (José Soza) and the subsequent arrival of 'faith director' Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso). At this point, and we're only twenty or so minutes it to what is a very well paced film, Larraín has The Club perfectly poised to go one of several ways.
The problem quickly emerges that the director does not settle fully on which of those ways to choose. On the one hand The Club could be a Dark Comedy, laughing at the absurdity of the church's approach. On the other, this is a tragic Drama from very early on and the elements of that type of drama could be played up further.
Ultimately Larraín commits to neither. Black Comedy is something you can throw yourself into, but films which tiptoe softly around it, making the occasional tentative prod with their foot, tend not to wholly succeed. The Club is such a film. As the events of the drama begin to tend towards the grim, the moments that seem to be played for chuckles seem odder and odder.
Perhaps more detrimental to The Club is the overtly religious route the director takes. At the start the symbolism is fairly natural (we are, after all, in a house with four priests; a few crosses are going to creep into the frame), but by the end we've made it to full on Life Of Brian; people are carried splayed across other's backs, feet are kissed and cleaned.
The eventual effect is of a grim film that only says fairly obvious things about the ills of the Catholic church. A true Black Comedy could have taken the discussion around its subject in great new directions (a la Four Lions and extremism), but as it is The Club settles for familiar motifs both within and outside of the religious framework and as such advances the discussion only a little. As an example there's no prizes for guessing the outcome for the film's canine characters. In a film to do with penance, the Hollywood use of canine characters is the only truly sanctioned use for canine characters.
The 29th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-19th November 2015 at venues around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House, Cottage Road Cinema and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.