The recent Oscar nominated Spotlight expertly explored the story of how child abuse within the catholic church was not only allowed to happen but was actively covered up by the powers that be.
The Club, the latest film from acclaimed Chilean director Pablo Larrain (No), may not contain any obvious aesthetic or journalistic connective tissue with that film but it feels like a spiritual ancestor in how it explores priests hidden away to be “rehabilitated.”
We focus on a group – “The Club” of the title – of former priests who have been sent to stay in a remote house by the sea where they are watched over, looked after and attempted to be “cured” by a female warden who keeps them on a strict daily routine. Much of the plot consists of an emissary from the Vatican interviewing each of the priests to attain, ironically, some confessions of their own. This sets off an escalating series of events tinged with absurdity and tragedy.
Shades of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth can be found in this stark, off-kilter drama, one that takes a hard look at religious conservatism and what that means in the modern world. The film is not an easy watch, with violence and descriptions of abuse rearing their heads as casually as you like. It’s also got an unnervingly queasy atmosphere of paranoia and cold austerity that matches the windy, rocky location by the sea.
The performances are universally excellent, with each of the actors scarily convincing in their priestly roles, some forthright about defending their actions as far more complex than they seem, others in a world of their own due to mental health problems.
The stoney-faced drama is framed quite nicely, albeit with that self-conscious arthouse aesthetic that can leave the emotions taking a backseat. And while the plot sets things up with a fairly straightforward point, it sometimes veers off into quirky and baffling tangents that go nowhere and, frankly, feel like they belong in an entirely different film.
What is the film ultimately trying to say? That sin isn’t all black and white? Or that maybe it is? That the priests are incapable of truly repenting or even acknowledging their crimes? And that isolation and blissful ignorance is never the answer? This film seems to conflicted in asking and answering those questions (and many more) but maybe that’s entirely the point. The sobering effect of this troubling, and troubled, film is in the pondering.