"The Club," Pablo Larraín's heavy drama deals with a priestly "retreat" (really, a home for defrocked clergy) in a small, unattractive town on the Chilean seaside, La Boca Natividad. All were kicked out of the priesthood for a variety of unacceptable behaviors, including homosexuality, child-snatching for the military, support of the evil dictator Pinochet, and, not least, paedophilia. So, the four men and the ex-nun who takes care of them -- reminding them all of the strict regimen of rising, meal times, showers, etc. -- live isolated from the townsfolk, which, of course, inflames any and all prejudices those peoples may hold.
Early on, a new reject is added to their modest home, a man who is called out almost immediately by a mid-30s fellow who becomes unhinged after he accuses the priest of sexually molesting him when an altar boy. This sad man, now felled by alcohol and chemical abuse, has been following the older priest for some time. Having found him, does his cry for justice get answered, or do the townsfolk violently reject him?
On top of these and other worries, a priest has been sent by the Vatican to close down some of the more unproductive homes, which, in a more damaging sense, might act as lightning rods for anti-hierarchy rages from the populace, which the Vatican fears will underscore these acts of aggression against the Church.
Larraín, one of Chile's greatest directors, is self-described as a "film-maker not for the weak-minded," as he is a call-it-as-he-sees-it creative artist. This film is an angry one -- angry at the sins of a church that lets its strict guidelines and rules pervert natural instincts, turns their fallen priests and nuns away from psychiatric help, and perpetrates cover-ups that have allowed some of the church's clerics to continue their grubby ways.
Dark and dank, with scant humor, the film shows how one of the outlets for this motley group is greyhound racing; but as we see, there's a darker side even to that, which includes murdering the dogs after they've run their last race and sabotaging their competitors.
The actors -- not a Hollywood-type in sight -- are a courageous lot, dedicated to telling the truths of these flawed men and women. The cast are all terrific: Roberto Farias (Sandokan), Alfredo Castro (Padre Vidal), Alejandro Goic (Padre Ortega), Alejandro Sieveking (Padre Ramirez), Jaime Vadel (Padre Silva), Marclo Alonso (Padre Garcia), and Antonia Zeers (who is Lorraín's wife) as Hermana Mónica. An incredible ensemble.
As a result of the film's superior representation of conservative religion's negative acts, "The Club" won the prestigious Silver Bear Award for Best Picture at the Berlin International Film Festival last year and is Chile's official submission for this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Shot with little sense of external beauty, the meanness of the town is well represented by cinematographer Sergio Armstrong and the sonorous music is by Carlos Cabezas. This is a powerful film, grim and unrepentant, exposing a notorious past in Chile's recent history. Well worth seeing.