El Club (The Club) carries the theme of corruption and self-preservation at the Catholic church – so after Spotlight, where you are likely to feel gut-punched, El Club leaves you feeling numb and emotionally cold. I just wish I could get rid of the dirt and the corruption at the church, but I know that it is pretty much ingrained and part of the system. I can certainly understand why so many are feeling betrayed and disillusioned by the church – when there are nasty things that are portrayed in these two movies, and more.
The Chilean movie, directed by Pablo Larrain opens with a seaside landscape of La Boca, Chile – grey and foggy, and you’ve got a sense that the camera is deliberately soft-focused (or is it off-focus?) for most of the movie. A hint of the subject matter of the movie, perhaps. We are presented with a house with Fr. Vidal (Alfredo Castro) who is likely to have committed underage molestation, Fr. Ortega (Alejandro Goic) – who profited from selling unwanted babies to childless couples, Fr. Silva (Jaime Vadell) – who used his knowledge from confessions to his own benefits, Fr. Ramírez (Alejandro Sieveking) – who has stayed at the house for a long time, and Sr. Mónica (Antonia Zegers) – an enigmatic nun who is given the task to be their warden. We learn that the house is not a retreat but it is one of many houses for priests to do their penance and contrition. We soon learn that the house is not much of a centre of penitence and prayers, with the priests raising a greyhound and participating in the local race. The arrival of a new priest – Fr. Lazcano (José Soza) – breaks the equilibrium, especially after a strange man, Sandokan (Roberto Farías) shouts explicit lines, goading Fr. Lazcano to get out and meet him. A tragedy in the house forces the church to send an investigator, Fr. García (Marcelo Alonso) to learn what actually happened – which further unravels the fabric of the house.
The title of the movie may be intended for the club of priests in the house, but may also be directed towards the overall Catholic church as a “club”. It’s an organisation that takes care of itself and is also interested in self preservation and survival, even if it means sweeping things under the carpet or dealing with problems questionably. Whilst Spotlight is investigative and almost factual in tone, The Club is emotive and raw. The soft focus also aids in giving a sense of disorientation in the whole movie. There are some shocking scenes in the movie – enough to shake you, especially when your brain helps to fill in the things that are not shown.
The movie is Chile’s official entry to the 88th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and was awarded the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the Berlinale 2015.