A crisis counselor is sent by the Catholic Church to a small Chilean beach town where disgraced priests and nuns, suspected of crimes ranging from child abuse to baby-snatching from unwed mothers, live secluded, after an incident occurs.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Golden Globes and winning the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Berlin Film Festival (among an onslaught of other festival honors), The Club is a very dark drama (not quite bordering on thriller) which graphically tackles some very disturbing issues, introduces us to some colorful characters and takes us on a journey into the darkness of the human condition.
Frankly, it’s going to be something of a slalom course to describe all of the greatness of The Club, without ruining the surprises and nuances you’ll marvel at as the film plays out. For me, it was a delight to go in with no prior knowledge of the film or its wonders. The less you know, the better. But let’s give it a go, shall we?
In a well-equipped home in a small village on the coast of Chile, four priests and a nun live a solitary existence. They’ve all been placed in this pseudo-exile for crimes they’ve committed in their past. They have a set schedule for prayer, duties and song. And they all work hard to raise a greyhound named Rayo (none more-so than Father Vidal – played by Alfredo Castro) for local races. And these men attempt – day by day, minute by minute – to atone for their past sins. The nun (Sister Monica – played by Antonia Zegers) is there to keep the men in check and well away from the temptations of their past. A new priest has fallen from grace, and is sent there to join their “retreat”. His arrival and a subsequent tragedy push the nun and the priests into a downward spiral of tough choices, facing past mistakes and the possibility that they may not have the safety and comfort of this “retreat” for much longer. Another priest, Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso) arrives to investigate the situation following the tragedy, and all things are brought into question. Every one of the house members is under suspicion.
The Club could make for a lovely double feature with one of this year’s Oscar darlings, Spotlight – about the massive molestation cover-up by the Catholic Church. Whereas Spotlight is very by the books, meet-the-deadline expose’, The Club takes a much more intimate and deeper (therefore painful) look at the Catholic Church’s not-so-hidden shame. Certainly not all of the priests living in this home are accused of pedophilia, but the issue of molestation becomes the central drive for their plight in the film.
The Club is definitely an ensemble piece. And with so many actors getting to take the spotlight, it’s always a tough task to call attention to the stand-outs. Roberto Farias is heartbreaking as Sandokan, the instigator of the story’s trajectory. He’s a depressed, damaged and drug-addicted transient who’s been following Father Lozcano for a long time, hoping to talk to him and to tell him what his life has been like since they first interacted so many years ago. Farias’ performance hurts. You’re filled with so much pity for this lost soul, that all of his actions you will find acceptable. Later revelations from his character are shocking and only further force sympathy for Sandokan. Farias hits every note, whether he’s drunken (most of the time) or desperate for affection, it’s a wonder his performance didn’t get some additional attention. But again, this is an ensemble piece and everyone brings such depth and quality to their respective roles, that even Farias’ outstanding work gets lost in this swirling mix of gifted thespians.
The picture’s not a horror film by way of supernatural spooks or gory killings or monstrous chase scenes. I would actually place it in a category of not only dark drama, but flirting with the badge of a rape-revenge film. It’s never particularly graphic aside from language (we never see the misdeeds of many of the priests), but it does showcase the fallout of a child’s former abuse at the hands of a trusted and beloved priest. It may be a stretch to call The Club as anything closer to horror than “thriller”, but aren’t the most horrific things we hear on the news — straight from the stories of other human beings and their sometimes-grisly actions? Such is the case here. It’s a phrase which gets overused, but human beings truly are the real monsters.
The film’s not without tiny bits of humor – thankfully releasing us from some of the darkness permeating the rest of the film. Among other lighter moments; following the film’s climax, there’s a lively exchange between Sandokan and the priests – wherein Sandokan reveals some of his life’s necessities. And certainly the elder statesman of the group, the forgetful and incontinent Father Ramirez offers up some “Oh, Lord” moments as he becomes the subject of Father Garcia’s questioning.
The Club is what a great film is and should be – all pieces working in harmony to leave the audience numb and smiling (not for the subject matter, but for the filmmakers’ master manipulation). It’s a lovely marvel — locations are overcast and oppressively perfect while still being breathtaking. The casting is ideal and the writing infinitely powerful (Sandokan’s introduction scene is nothing short of incredible). But The Club also raises plenty of difficult questions – about religion, about redemption, about revenge and about atonement.
The Club is not easy and it’s not light. It’s a challenge that you’ll walk away from, feeling better for having seen it. The Club simply is a perfect film, and thus, in my short time of reviewing — I’m offering up only my third perfect film score. This film joins 2014’s The House at the End of Time and last year’s horror-comedy Cooties, taking a place on that coveted pedestal of greatness. All very different films, but each perfect in their own way.
And to give the film further cache and additional reason for you to see it, The Club was also selected as Chile’s entry into the Best Foreign Language Film for this year’s Oscars, but sadly, did not receive a nomination.
The Club is scheduled for US release on February 5th, 2016, and is absolutely something you don’t want to miss.