White elephant

Art & Culture

Pablo Trapero is an admirable Argentinian film director who has made many excellent films, but despite this being compelling viewing for nearly 90% of its running time, it loses its way so badly in the last section, that to some extent it undermines what has gone before.

As usual, he is working with South America’s greatest film actor, Ricardo Darin, as Julian, a Catholic priest with a conscience who runs a project in the slums of Buenos Aires, designed to help the underprivileged, the oppressed, and in some cases, the criminal. He ventures into the heart of the Amazon to bring out a young French colleague, Nicolas (Jeremie Renier), who has witnessed the slaughter of a village without being able to help them.Nicolas comes to work at the White Elephant, the name of the former hospital which was never finished, which is now home to hundreds of people with little hope apart from the priests.
Although there is also a devoted social worker, Luciana (Martina Guzman, Trapero’s partner), who is strikingly beautiful and obviously drawn to Nicolas.

So, we have the various strands of complexity. Julian is in dispute with the church hierarchy for their lack of active support for the project, which risks going under for lack of funds. The police dislike the area, seeing it as a place where gangs and criminals can hide with impunity. There’s a kid who’s hovering on the borderline between being saved from drug addiction and a life of crime,a nd going under for the last time. And meanwhile Nicolas is facing that eternal spiritual question for Catholic priests. What do you do when you fancy a really hot chick, and she fancies you back? Although I suspect that there are as few priests looking like Renier as there are slum social workers looking like Guzman.

This is all good stuff, and had me fully engrossed until the final melodramatic denouement, which left me deeply frustrated. Obviously, I can’t tell you the details, but in my opinion, it is contrived, unbelievable and essentially a copout. Which is a shame given the quality of what has gone before. I still like the film, and would recommend it with some reservations, but a bit more work on the script would have served the film much better.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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