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House of Godforsaken

Music Box Films

The Club (2016)

“The Club” is the opposite of flash-bang-wallop cinema, where ordinary life hardly exists under the explosions which are meant to bring peace and justice but instead vanish into nothing but tidy blockbuster profits. This movie is a disturbing slow burner, without a superhero in sight, which takes a level gaze at the cost of evil and how to manage the humans responsible for it.

“The Club” is not a club, but a sort-of name for the yellow house on the outskirts of a small beach town in Chile. The house is spoken of, indirectly, in the film and its marketed as a sort of retirement home for priests. That, of course, is just a small portion of the truth. The only woman, Sister Monica (Antonia Zegers) is in charge; she keeps the money, does all the housework and maintains order. There are four middle-aged or elderly priests, who work in the garden and putter around the house. One is senile and rarely speaks; the others are healthier and keep themselves busy. Their only happiness is a racing greyhound they run in small-time events every weekend. Sister Monica handles the dog; the others watch from a hillside, through binoculars. The bets they win are a secret they keep among themselves.

Then there is an incident in the house, caused by a badly troubled man named Sandokan (Robert Farias). After the attention the incident brings, a priest/crisis counsellor named Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso) is sent to investigate. His questions send the residents of the house down a different path. You don’t need to know a thing about Chilean or Catholic history to understand what Father Garcia is very carefully stirring up.

The cinematography by Sergio Armstrong works with the overcast skies of the town to set a matter-of-fact tone. Estefania Larrain’s art direction uses the color yellow ironically, but mainly sticks to browns, grays and blues, in the homes and clothes, making the occasional other color (such as the redhead windsurfer) more shocking. This is a movie that lingers long after it has stopped, designed for its audience to mull over the issues raised and whether the suggested solution is the wisest one.

It’s difficult to describe “The Club” without making it sound like an unavoidable piece of homework. It’s difficult to address the movie’s subject without having to dwell on larger issues of justice and the complicity society has in individual crimes. Some of the language is vulgar and incredibly shocking; most of the attitudes the characters espouse are even more so. And this is all done in the little streets and sitting rooms of ordinary working-class houses in an ordinary little working-class town.

This is, of course, precisely the point. Evil moves among us in fleece jackets and sensible shoes, buying groceries and taking out the trash. Director Pablo Larrain has made an important movie about the banality of evil. Be clear, it’s not much fun. But it was never supposed to be. Justice is almost impossible to mete out accurately; and its human and financial cost must always be weighed in the balance. And no matter what happens or who is responsible, dinner has to be cooked, diapers have to be changed and the dog must be taken for a walk.


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