And they’re no ordinary family. Hailing from the wealthy Buenos Aires suburb of San Isidro, the Puccios kidnapped four people in the 1980s, three of whom they murdered. In a case that became a mainstay of Argentine popular culture, family patriarch Arquímedes and son Alejandro were eventually sentenced to life in prison.
I knew virtually nothing about the Puccios before seeing The Clan, and was subsequently impressed at the film’s gradual elucidation of the character and motivations of Arquímedes. While Trapero takes time to set out the broad political context of the story, he avoids superfluous exposition of his human subjects. What we are left to infer for ourselves is far more compelling as a result.
The contrast between the nefarious actions of Arquímedes and the humdrum domesticity of the Puccio household is part of an undertone of black comedy that’s entertaining and narratively enriching. The Clan is resolutely not about criminals outwitting cops or vice versa. Arquímedes is neither particularly cunning nor careful, owing to a stubborn conviction that defunct power elements in his former circles can still protect him. The kidnappings happen in broad daylight, and the victims are carried kicking and screaming into the Puccio household within earshot of anybody that happens to be strolling by. Certain shots and sequences incorporate clear elements of farce, and Arquímedes is played with a kind of constipated intensity by Guillermo Francella (among other things a renowned comedian) who can take the character from intimidating to ridiculous with a barely perceptible shift of the eyes.
The family’s antics take place within the context of major political upheaval, but our focus remains upon Arquímedes and Alejandro, and the evolution of their relationship toward its retrospectively inevitable climax. In this way, The Clan surpasses the narrative constraints imposed by its umbilical link to reality. This story of father and son is many things; a metaphor for the particular political circumstances of the film, but equally a distillation of larger themes; generational interdependence, obstinacy in the face of overwhelming change.
If that all sounds heavy, rest assured that The Clan is a ton of fun. Similarities to Scorsese gangster pictures come in the form of a punchy jukebox soundtrack that propels the narrative along at key moments, although it arguably has more in common with something like David Michod’s Animal Kingdom than with Goodfellas. The film also features some outstanding camerawork, notably the tracking shots that show us the kidnappings. These shots are disciplined and do not draw attention to themselves; the camera doesn’t lead us places, it reacts to movement and incident, keeping us intensely in the moment.
If there is a downside, it’s that we gain virtually no insight into what motivates the female members of the family. The eldest daughter Silvia in particular seems far too morally guided to show indifference to what’s happening. On screen she’s something of an anomaly. But this is the only real gripe with what is otherwise a well-executed portrayal of a uniquely felonious family.
The Clan is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray.