Contemplative Argentinian drama about a team of Catholic priests working in Buenos Aires' slums
In this unique and impressive drama Argentinian filmmaker Pablo Trapero (Carancho) invites us into the lives of a team of dedicated Catholic priests, led by Father Julian (Ricardo Darin), who work with and live amongst gang members, drug addicts and outcasts in a huge slum in Buenos Aires. Just as these Fathers have chosen to fully face the reality of one of the world’s dark places rather than opting for an easier life, Trapero and his co-writers dive fully into wrestling with the grey areas and compromised principles that, in this context, become inescapable for these men of faith; it makes for a rich and satisfying character study.
The film begins with a long sequence in which Julian travels deep into the Amazon to find Nicolas (Jeremie Renier), a fellow priest who has witnessed the brutal massacre of the tribal village he has been serving in. Shortly after this we are introduced to the slum, through a remarkable single take in which the camera follows Nicolas from the priests’ living area in an abandoned hospital through the length of the slum to end up at Julian’s chapel. Trapero crafts several virtuoso sequences like this throughout the film, immersing the viewer in the ever-changing slum environment.
Rather than following a conventional plotline, the film is shaped more as a series of episodes in the lives of the priests, from mediating gang conflicts to celebrating baptisms to dealing with personal crises of faith. The exceptionally well-drawn main characters remain in sharp focus through this sometimes-unwieldy structure; Darin and Renier are both terrific, and another Trapero regular, Martina Gusman, is equally good as a passionate social worker. Trapero’s film examines the real cost of a life of faith - the servanthood and the sacrifice - and is itself a long dark night of the soul, offering much to contemplate.
White Elephant screened at Glasgow Film Festival. On release from Fri 26 Apr.