‘Clan’ ter­ri­fy­ing and com­i­cal at same time

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - MOVIES - By Rene Ro­driguez

Watch­ing “The Clan,” you have to keep re­mind­ing your­self that this ab­so­lutely in­sane story re­ally hap­pened. The story of the Puc­cio fam­ily, who lived in a wealthy sub­urb of Buenos Aires and be­came in­fa­mous for a se­ries of as­ton­ish­ing crimes in the 1980s, has fas­ci­nated Ar­gentina for decades but may not be all that well-known in the U.S. This taut, pol­ished thriller, which has been made with the en­ergy and pop-cul­ture savvy of a Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion, should change that.

Di­rec­tor Pablo Trap­ero (“White Ele­phant”) opens the pic­ture with a quick prologue that uses news footage to re­count the 1983 ap­point­ment of the demo­crat­i­cally elected pres­i­dent Raúl Al­fon­sín and his en­su­ing reprisals against crimes com­mit­ted dur­ing the coun­try’s “Dirty War,” dur­ing which gov­ern­mentspon­sored kid­nap­pings left a toll of more than 30,000 de­sa­pare­ci­dos (the van­ished).

As the film opens, Arquimedes Puc­cio (Guillermo Fran­cella), a dead­eyed psy­chopath who worked as an in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tive for the pre­vi­ous regime, is con­tin­u­ing his nasty work of kid­nap­ping wealthy peo­ple for ran­som — and keep­ing them pris­oner in the home he shares with his wife and five chil­dren. In an early scene, we watch Arquimedes walk­ing through his house. He asks his middle son Alex (Peter Lan­zani) to stop watch­ing TV and checks in on his younger daugh­ter to tell her that mom has din­ner ready. Ev­ery­thing seems nor­mal. Ex­cept Arquimedes then makes his way down to the base­ment, where a hostage is be­ing kept in­side a dingy bath­room, hooded and chained and cry­ing for help.

The jux­ta­po­si­tion of a happy home hid­ing a dun­geon of hor­rors is the pri­mary fo­cus of “The Clan”: How did Arquimedes and his fam­ily man­age to carry on as if noth­ing was hap­pen­ing, even though there were bleed­ing cap­tives un­der­neath their floor­boards? Trap­ero, who cowrote the script with Este­ban Stu­dent and Ju­lian Loyola, turns Alex into the au­di­ence sur­ro­gate. He’s a hand­some, pop­u­lar young man who works at his father’s surf shop, plays rugby and has a new girl­friend. Oh, and oc­ca­sion­ally Alex also helps his father carry out a kid­nap­ping, even MPAA rat­ing: R, for vul­gar lan­guage, vi­o­lence, gore, sex­ual sit­u­a­tions, nu­dity, adult themes. Run­ning time: 1:48 Opens: Fri­day serv­ing up one of his rich friends as a vic­tim.

Ex­cept Alex isn’t aware — at first — that his father has no in­ten­tions of ever re­turn­ing his hostages alive, even af­ter re­ceiv­ing ran­som. “The Clan” can be ter­ri­fy­ing one mo­ment and darkly com­i­cal the next: A long se­quence de­pict­ing the kid­nap­ping of a woman is scored to David Lee Roth’s “Just a Gigolo,” while an­other kid­nap­ping at­tempt goes hor­ri­bly wrong, “Pulp Fic­tion” style. Trap­ero brings a lush style to the film that helps to heighten the over­all weird­ness: If it wasn’t based on a true story, you’d write the movie off as pre­pos­ter­ous.

Fran­cella’s per­for­mance is too one-note to give the mon­strous papa any di­men­sion — his cold eyes never reg­is­ter any emo­tion — and the other fam­ily mem­bers are rel­e­gated to the back­ground. The strained, strange re­la­tion­ship be­tween father and son ul­ti­mately be­comes the emo­tional cen­ter of “The Clan.”

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