Berlinale Blog Sinners in limbo

“El Club” by Pablo Larraín
“El Club” by Pablo Larraín | Photo (detail): © Fabula

The enormous potential of Chilean cinema is again conspicuously clear at this year’s Berlinale. “El Club” is a powerful picture about the dark side of the Catholic Church and the moral abyss.

The film is about a group of retired priests living cut off from the rest of the world in a little village on the Chilean coast. They lead a placid, laid-back life there, taking long walks, training a greyhound for the races, gardening.

On the brink of a moral abyss

But all that changes when a new priest comes to the house and, shortly after arriving, commits suicide. The ecclesiastical powers that be then send a young priest to investigate. And this is how the group’s past comes to light: the members of this unusual “club” include a child abuser, a murderer for the Pinochet regime and a human trafficker who sold new-born babies. These men live on the brink of a moral abyss. The priest sent on this fact-finding mission wants to make sure the evildoers are finally punished. What he doesn’t know yet is that he himself is going to end up part of this circle of horror.

Suppression of guilt

El Club is a complex film. It’s about abuse, guilt and blindness. The members of the club are incapable of acknowledging the heinous crimes they have committed. They see themselves as “good” men. But director Pablo Larraín does not pass superficial judgment. He focuses not on the transgressions themselves, but on the suppression of guilt. This side of the story is told in sober images, sometimes even with a dose of gallows humour. El Club thus blends light and dark shades of human nature into a grey area. Larraín does not give in to the temptation to dwell exclusively on the moral depravity of his protagonists. Nor does he have divine justice prevail.

Two years ago, Larraín was nominated for an Academy Award for his film No. With El Club he has come out with another outstanding film. In any case it has garnered public and critical acclaim.