The military dictatorship in Argentina that was regarded as the worst in the nation's history was led by General Galtieri, but it was not simply the men at the very top of the regime who were responsible for the atrocities, for their brutality infested every strata of their society for seven years. One such instrument of oppression was the Puccio clan, a suburban family whose patriarch Arquímedes (Guillermo Francella) guided them into terrible acts of kidnapping and murder, all for a hefty profit and the protection of the authorities who were sanctioning their behaviour. His eldest son was Alex (Peter Lanzani), and though he was reluctant to go ahead with his father's demands, he did it anyway - they all did.
The long shadow of the totalitarian regimes of South America was very apparent in the continent's twenty-first century cinema, and in Argentina casting one of their most popular comedians (Francella) to act out one of the most notorious stories of those days guaranteed a box office smash, therefore it was the most successful domestic movie the country had ever seen. He had already appeared in another film about that era, The Secret in Their Eyes, a drama which had been a big hit internationally, even garnering a Hollywood remake, so he was not averse to dialling back the humour and playing it straight, but even so there were those surprised at how much of a spectre his Puccio was, looking like death warmed up.
It could be the pale, ghostly makeup that did it, offering the star a ghastly pallour, but there was more to it thanks to an understated chill about his performance, as if Puccio had already got over any qualms about his abhorrent behaviour a long time ago and had settled into his lawbreaking as merely a way of life, a reasonable way to go about your days, particularly given that his criminality was essentially permitted by the powers that be. It was a delivery that held an awful fascination, a man who has sold his soul for money and standing and a weird respect from not only his family but also some pretty awful people, all of which fed into his ego and unwavering belief that he was doing the right thing.
Actually, he may very well have been aware that what he was doing was undeniably the wrong thing, but he had become so accustomed to it that he was not about to stop now; The Clan was as much concerned with the perversity of what some can accept as normal if it goes on for long enough, no matter that anyone with an inch of morality would be suffering plenty of guilt at destroying these victim's lives, often literally. Yet Alex, who verged on taking the main character status away from Arquímedes for much of the story, was indeed enduring a growing horror at the actions of his family, no matter that he was just as culpable but seemingly unable to prevent himself thanks to the force of will of his father which was a stand in for the military exploiting the populace so much that they simply, numbly got used to it.
This might make the film sound absolutely riveting in a horrible kind of way, but in effect director Pablo Trapero fumbled the material to a degree, not so much that it was unwatchable, far from it, but in taking a Martin Scorsese approach to the facts, which meant scoring scenes to popular songs as an ironic counterpoint to the scenes playing out before your alarmed eyes, he perhaps chose the wrong route. He was right not to make it humorous, and he did work up a sense of relentless oppression which must have been heavy in the air for every day of the dictatorship, but that could easily turn to monotony if you're not careful and that's what The Clan teetered on the brink of. The plot could be summed up as kidnap, murder, domestic scenes, repeated over and over until the men at the top were replaced and the Puccios had to pay for their crimes, not that everyone believed they were guilty, which was one of the more unsettling elements. Though well known in Argentina, the best this did was to bring the tale to a global audience, and it was well performed. Music by Sebastián Escofet.