Mixed Media: Films

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Arquímedes and son, up to no good in The Clan.

The Clan

directed and co-written by Pablo Trapero (106 minutes)

Following the return of democratic government in Argentina, Arquímedes Puccio, with a wife, three sons, and two daughters, has lost his position, privileges and salary as an intelligence operative. The returns from the family grocery store do not meet his expectations of income or status. So, he goes freelance. Rather than disappearing political opponents of the generals, he plans to kidnap people whose families can pay for their safe return. He has the skills and the contacts to set up a snatch team, and protection within the police. Eldest son Alex, an affable, well-known and much-liked Argentinean rugby international, has contacts with money – the ideal client base – and they fix on one of his club team mates as their first target. This may all sound far-fetched, but it’s based on a real event in 1982-83, research and interviews with people involved, and, specifically, the activities of a family the press dubbed ‘El Clan’.

Convincing, sometimes uncomfortable, The Clan is much more than a recreation of events. Its drama is focused not on story, but psychology, on the mentality of the protagonists, and, more widely, a complicit middle class. This is about people who supported or benefited from the dictatorship.

Arquímedes is the classic patriarch, brilliantly played by a popular comedian. He’s both caring – helping his daughter with her maths homework – and scarily detached. He has ‘normal’ emotions, but severely curtailed identification and loyalty. How culpable too are other family members who don’t see the prisoners but hear the screams and thuds from the basement?

Always gripping and entertaining, comical and shocking in its juxtapositions and use of soundtrack and music, this is the banal, everyday life of comfortable, small-minded, self-interested people. It stays with you.

★★★★ ML

Urban Hymn

directed by Michael Caton-Jones (114 minutes)

Urban Hymn – from riots to recording contract.

Kicking off in the 2011 London riots, Jamie and Leanne are bare pleased to be nicking really decent stuff from shops. They’re nearly 18, both with big attitudes disguising anxiety and a sense of inadequacy. But, right on cue, comes Kate, a really nice forty-something care worker who’s quit sociology lecturing to change the lives of kids who have never had a chance.

Or one of them, anyway. The one with a nice singing voice. Not the one with violent inclinations who can’t read. If it’s not rags to riches, it is riots to recording contract (via prison) and all rather neat and tidy.

Even so, the believability of each person’s background and behaviour, the basic truth of their relationships, and the core performances, redeem the film, and make it, at times, intensely moving. In one scene, Shirley Henderson, as Kate, is so simple and quiet, so vulnerable but so strong, that it’s gut-wrenching. It’s beautiful, reverberant, staggering. What a shame that Jamie’s turnaround has to have the validation of potential stardom when what really moves us is not her exceptionalism, but the change in who she is, her learning to trust and to love.

★★★★ ML

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