One or twice a week, in summer, I ride my bicycle over the Oakland Hills and into the town of Orinda – a distance of about 20 miles - where I have lunch before taking BART back home or doubling back over the hills into Berkeley and thence home. On occasion, though, my wife and I drive to Orinda to enjoy a movie at its classic deco cinema (pictured below) – as we did last Saturday.
When I checked online movie schedules, my wife was looking for a comedy and her choice was the Meryl Streep vehicle “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a gimmicky film that was a waste of time and money. I was surprised, though, to see that the theater – which has divided itself into one large salon, where Streep was on the screen, and three smaller halls that sometimes provide artsier options - was also showing director Pablo Trapero’s dark drama “The Clan,” set in Argentina’s post-Dirty War period.
It surprised me because Orinda is an upper-upper-upper middle class town that’s relatively conservative by Bay Area standards, and “The Clan” is the kind of film that I’d expect to have greater appeal in more diverse and politically active cities such as San Francisco, Oakland or Berkeley. Mind you, there were few viewers at the late Saturday showing of Meryl Streep’s film that we attended (By the way, I like and respect Streep, but her new film is no "Sophie's Choice").
That said, I really wanted to see “The Clan,” Trapero’s version of a true crime story in which suburban Buenos Aires patriarch Arquímedes Puccio (played by Guillermo Francella, pictured above left) recruits his son (Peter Franzini, at right) and other family members into a kidnap-for-ransom scheme that goes wrong - especially when Puccio loses the protection of his military contacts after Argentina’s return to constitutional government in 1983. On a Monday afternoon, there were only nine of us in the audience.
Previously, the children worked in the family’s downstairs corner deli, but most of them – not all – become at least complicit in the father’s psycopathic attempt at economic and social advancement. There are some truly discomfiting scenes as Arquímedes phones the families of his victims to extort a ransom from them – in US dollars, of course, at a time when inflation sometimes reached 50 per cent per month.
“The Clan” is not an easy film to watch, but it’s an absorbing portrayal of a dysfunctional family in unstable circumstances. Francella, who made his reputation as a comedian, is disturbingly effective as a sociopathic control freak, even as he helps his youngest daughter with her homework. The others, though, he betrayed – only to be betrayed by superiors on whom he tried to deflect the blame for his crimes.