The latest offering from Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín, El Club opens with a man on a beach swinging a piece of fur on a string on a pole in circles to train his dog in preparation for an upcoming race. Yet the man seems to take perverse pleasure in his performance of the act of taunting, an act which makes multiple appearances throughout El Club to re-emphasize the importance of hints which go unanswered.
The members of the ‘club’ to which the title refers are a group of four priests living together in one apartment because of their shared pedophilic pasts and are now hidden away from the world under the supervision of an nun shunned for similar reasons. Even in this context, she is relegated to stereotypically feminine tasks like cooking, cleaning, and changing the diapers of an old priest who has regressed into baby-like behaviors.
When a former victim appears to interrupt their solace, they are forced into mental re-visitations of old memories left otherwise undisturbed, a psychological weapon used to taunt them. A crisis counselor is sent by the church to reconcile their demons.
A hazy, de-saturated blue-gray, distinctly digital, and soft focus look embodies the hardships of close-up guilty consciences. The obfuscation of reality via religious self-delusion blocks out the past in an effort to re-write history; creating new problems and repressing existing obstacles.
Larrain’s latest film is a work of great integrity and troublesome complications – while it presents a strongly politicized look on a particular issue, there is a humanity to the characters despite their vile secrets.