THE CLUB, drama, not rated, in Spanish with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 2.5 chiles Light has been focused lately on some ugly corners of the Catholic Church, and Chilean director Pablo Larraín ( No) probes these dark precincts with this bitter, angry tale of a sort of halfway house located in a coastal town near Santiago.
Although it’s not immediately apparent who the inmates are, our suspicions are soon confirmed. Four disgraced priests and one nun live there in not terribly repentant isolation, following by rote the house rules and a daily schedule of pro forma prayer and ritual. They’re not all in for sexual abuse; one was involved in relocating babies from poor mothers to upscale childless families. He still believes he was doing God’s work.
Father Vidal (Alfredo Castro), an unapologetic child molester, devotes his time and passion to training a racing greyhound, Rayo, by standing on the beach and swinging a lure at the end of a fishing rod so that the dog races around and around, describing a circle in the sand, inside which the ex-priest seems symbolically confined. The nun, Sister Mónica (Antonia Zegers), who acts as housemother, handles the dog at the local track, where the men are forbidden to go.
A newcomer to the fraternity, Father Lazcano ( José Soza), arrives near the film’s beginning. Shortly after that, a man shows up outside the house and starts shouting an extended, painfully graphic tirade recounting the sexual abuse he suffered at the new arrival’s hands years before as an altar boy. The others seem to distance themselves from the new priest. Each has his own justifications for the actions that have brought him to this pass, and little sympathy for the others.
A sudden, shocking act of violence brings the police, to whom the house’s inmates give a rehearsed lie about what happened. Shortly after, a Vatican troubleshooter, Father García (Marcelo Alonso), appears. He interrogates the residents about their transgressions, which he must have known from their dossiers, and threatens to close down the house. And then what?
Larraín has made a damning, provocative, and deeply unpleasant movie, which spares nothing about the institution that reared and shaped these outcasts and the people they in turn affected. The effects of their corruption are not transient. We follow up on the shouter, a fisherman named Sandokan, whose life has been irreparably plunged into a living hell by his childhood experience. Like the Pinochet regime, the institutional sins of the church have left an abiding legacy in Chile, which, by this bleak assessment, will not easily be purged.
Foot fault: Marcelo Alonso (kneeling) and Roberto Farias