Although I loved “Spotlight” and wouldn’t be disappointed if it won the Best Picture Oscar (I really liked some of the other nominated films too), there is another movie on the same subject that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention. One reason may be that it’s a subtitled film from Chile, but you shouldn’t overlook it. “The Club” is one of the most powerful films I’ve seen in a long time, much more affecting than “Son of Saul” in my opinion, and equally adventurous cinematically.
Four older men live together in a secluded house in a dreary small town on Chile’s coast. A middle-aged woman lives there too, tending to their domestic needs and making sure they stick to their schedule. Defrocked because of their sexual abuse of children, these former priests have been sent away to repent of their sins, and they while away the time by breeding and racing greyhounds. Their comfortable exile is interrupted by a young Vatican envoy, who arrives almost simultaneously with another man joining the community. Following the newest resident is a disheveled hobo. The homeless man stands in front of the house and loudly describes in graphic detail what the priest did to him when he was a boy. This recitation goes on and on, shocking the viewer as much as it does the people in the house.
The emissary from the Vatican is young and idealistic and insists on interviewing all the priests about their sins and their attempts to repent. They are in denial for the most part, with one rationalizing that he was bringing the children to a higher relationship with God. Another, a former military chaplain, has other sins to confront, which reflect on Chile’s political history. The film includes dark humor without invalidating the horror that these men brought to the lives of the children they molested. All of the human relationships in the film are degraded as if the spiritual corruption in the church has spread throughout the land. It is as powerful an indictment of the sexual abuse scandal as I’ve seen.
Director Pablo Larraín has made several award-winning films, including “Tony Manero” (Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight,) “Post Mortem” (Venice Film Festival,) and “No,” his Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film starring Gael Garcia Bernal. His upcoming films are “Neruda,” which re-teams him with Gael Garcia Bernal, and “Jackie” with Natalie Portman. “The Club” has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar too. Don’t miss it.
And Some That Don’t Work
It may seem that I’m a sucker for any movie with subtitles, but that’s not so. I saw a much heralded Chinese film recently that I walked out on. Opening in 1999 and spanning decades, “Mountains May Depart” traces the lives of three young people in a rapidly changing China. Director Jia Zhangke is interested in the impact of materialism on Chinese society, I’m guessing, but the style of filmmaking he employs made it impossible for me to watch the entire three-hour film. The movie has the quality of a fable, very slow moving with an exaggerated acting style that probably derives from classic Chinese opera. A beautiful young woman (the director’s wife Zhan Tao) must choose between two young men, one much more ambitious than the other. That’s the one she picks to marry, and they have a baby boy he names Dollar. Is that too subtle for you? That did it for me, but the film was selected to be in the 2015 New York Film Festival, so somebody liked it.
Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby star in “Touched with Fire,” another disappointing attempt to deal with a serious issue. Both play characters who are manic depressives and poets. They meet “cute” in a treatment facility, and their mania ignites their romance as well as an outburst of creativity. At least, that seems to be the point writer/director Paul Dalio is making. Dalio himself has bipolar disorder (according to the press notes), and is presenting a thesis that great artists (e.g., Vincent van Gogh) have suffered from the illness, and that perhaps the disorder was central to their creativity. Really? What about all the manic depressives who are not artists? What about the effort and discipline that making art requires? There are some good performances here, particularly Christine Lahti and Griffin Dunne as the exasperated parents who must care for their sick children, but romanticizing mental illness is not a particularly helpful tack. Also undermining Dalio’s thesis is that the poetry Holmes’s character writes while manic is not very good. The couple’s reinterpretation of van Gogh’s “Starry Night” as nursery wallpaper is pretty cool, though.