Produced by Pedro Almodovar and directed by Pablo Trapero, The Clan is an Argentinian/Spanish production that tells the true story of a spate of violent kidnappings in Buenos Aires in the early 80s.
The man behind the kidnappings is Arquimedes Puccio, a married father of five who decides to not so much climb as pole vault the economic ladder by kidnapping wealthy people for ransom. Arquimedes’ family soon become embroiled in his actions, either directly or by turning a blind eye to what’s going on around them.
Arquimedes is played by Guillermo Francella with chilling efficiency. Francella is one of those actors whose face can say a great deal purely through expression and his performance is reminiscent of Christopher Walken on top form – he conveys pure, heartless evil.
The central story of The Clan, though, is the plight of Alejandro (Peter Lanzani), Arquimedes’ eldest son and a star rugby player seemingly with the world at his feet. The domineering Arquimedes involves a reluctant Alejandro at an early stage and it’s not long before their actions turn murderous – dragging Alejandro to increasingly darker places as he is forced to lead a double life.
You feel pity, sadness and a sense of foreboding for Alejandro’s situation, but the film is also ambiguous and smart enough to have you debating a number of moral questions throughout. Was Alejandro as reluctant as he seemed? Could he have ever said no and was there ever a way out for him? Were the family members who did nothing but kept quiet just as guilty in their own way or were they victims?
Taking place over a three-year period in the aftermath of the Falklands Conflict, The Clan also works as a convincing period piece and offers an interesting insight into life in Argentina following the end of the war and the final years of it military dictatorship. British history during that period was dominated by Thatcher, The Falklands and Charles and Diana and it’s fascinating to see a window into life in Argentina at the same time.
The methods employed by Arquimedes and his accomplices were surprisingly amateur – they were not sophisticated (or especially careful) criminals. This almost casual ineptitude adds to the tension. It feels like it can go horribly wrong anytime, either for the kidnappers or their victims.
Bar a repeating flash-forward scene which adds to the sense that this will not end well, The Clan is a very linear biopic. It succeeds because it’s nicely shot, well acted and invests time in its characters. Despite them being complicit in some horrific crimes, you somehow find yourself feeling for the family’s situation when it all starts to unravel – not least when the film reaches its sudden and shocking climax.
The Clan doesn’t achieve classic status – it’s no Goodfellas or City of God –but it’s a damn fine film all the same.