"the Club" Examines Sex Abuse, Catholic Church
By Joe Friar
March 9, 2016
This year's Oscar-winning Best Picture, "Spotlight" focused on a team of reporters who exposed a coverup of pedophile priests by the Catholic church.
In one scene from the film, a Boston Globe reporter discovers a group home for defrocked priests accused of sexual abuse in his own neighborhood.
The troubling revelation causes the journalist to place his own kids on high alert as he warns them to stay away from the home.
Chilean writer-director Pablo Larrain explores similar territory in his chilling new film, "The Club," as four defrocked priests and a former nun take residence in a seaside home located in La Boca, Chile.
The two-story house serves as a rehab facility where the former clergy do penance for their sins while mostly avoiding the general public. Sister Monica (Antonia Zegers) serves as the caretaker and warden of the disgraced priests, but later in the film, its revealed that she also has a sordid past that involves the abuse of a child, physical not sexual.
It looks as if the five have been abandoned by the church since they are left to police themselves without any outside monitoring.
They sing and pray the rosary, but the group also indulges in alcohol, drugs and gambling in the form of a thoroughbred greyhound. Father Vidal (Alfredo Castro) loves dogs, and he trains the greyhound Rayo to compete in the local dog races.
Since the group is not allowed in the village, Sister Monica becomes the dog's official handler and the priests are forced to watch the races with binoculars, while perched on top of a hill. The pooch becomes a big money maker for the group that resembles a bunch of retired gangsters, but their lives are about to change with the arrival of two new occupants.
The performances in the film are first-rate, and the tension in the house escalates when the Catholic Church sends Father Garcia (a very good Marcelo Alonso) to check up on the home's occupants. Rumor has it that Garcia, a counselor for the church, has been traveling around to similar homes in order to close them down. The second new arrival is Father Lazcano (Jose Soza) a disgraced priest from the area who is immediately recognized by one of the locals - a man named Sandokan (Roberto Farias) who was sexually abused as a child at the hands of Lazcano.
Sandokan's role in this tragic story becomes the center-point for the dark film as the mentally unstable fisherman is seen as a representative of all those victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the clergy. Like an exploited Paul Revere warning the residents of La Boca, he begins to come around the group home to loudly describe in detail the evil acts perpetuated on him as a child by the former priest.
The film hits a high note when Father Garcia begins to interrogate the home's inhabitants one at a time in order to assess whether the church should shut down the living facility. We watch as each of the five describe their sins in what resembles face-to-face confessions, but unlike the religious sacrament, there doesn't seem to be any remorse among the group for their actions - some even use religion to justify their actions.
The final chapter of "The Club" is both shocking and heinous as the group led by Sister Monica go to extreme measures to make sure they are not kicked out into the street. Antonia Zegers is fantastic as the former nun who seems virtuous most of the time, until we get a glimpse of pure evil that comes in the form of a simple smile or grin. The actress is one of the director's regulars after appearing in Larrain's films "No," "Tony Manero" and "Post Mortem."
Beautifully shot by cinematographer Sergio Armstrong, who properly sets the somber mood, "The Club" is a tragic film by a director who become an expert at showcasing corruption, including social, political and religious.
Joe Friar is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Houston Film Critics Society and juror at the Victoria Independent Film Festival. He reviews films every Friday on Hit Radio 104.7 KVIC. Contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org.