I’ll begin by apologizing for my tardiness as festival fatigue has finally worn off following its conclusion. I saw a total of fifteen films at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival, most of which were well worth seeing barring a couple of duds. This sheer volume of viewing paired with my continuing obsession with comparing my opinions with others’ yielded something fruitful, more specifically an overarching moment of self-reflection regarding my personal tastes. I’ve further distanced myself from past fears of harboring dissenting opinions, and thankfully, I feel much more confident in ironing out the criteria to befit my growing canon of personal favorites. Catching up with wide-release fare I’ve missed throughout the festival’s duration will prove tiresome, but I plan on eliminating a few blind spots in between these viewings whenever possible. Feel free to check out my ranked list of everything I saw at PFF24 here.
Four disgraced priests and their nun overseer live isolated in a remote Chilean seaside town. They live out their days contentedly, seldom interacting with outsiders until the arrival of a mysterious and similarly troubled fifth tenant ushers in an unforeseeable travesty. When what transpires that attracts unwanted attention, an investigation is conducted by a fledgling member of the Catholic church to determine the fate of all involved.
In aggressively chastising its subject, The Club pairs unsubtle stigmatization with a purposeful aesthetic to achieve its desired effect. The film tackles the theme of muddled and misinterpreted faith with aplomb, of which is illustrated to varying degrees of depravity via enthralling intermittent one-on-ones with the priests’ unwavering interrogator. It’s within these delusional men’s ramblings that we’re offered insight into how genuinely depraved they are, no matter how mild-mannered the lot of them appear to be at first glance. The effect these frank exchanges yield is one of sustained discomfort for viewers, but the film is all the better for it in examining deep-seated albeit hyperbolic corruption within this geographical sect of the church.
The Club manages to deftly balance these instances with an overarching subplot involving the enigmatic instigator that started this entire mess. This wraparound chunk of uncertainty tacks suspense onto what’s already compelling, and although the score is a bit overwrought and accentuates melancholy over anything else, Larraín doesn’t refrain from keeping things light when a situation warrants it. This sense of humor drastically drops off as things grow increasingly dire, but there’s something to admire about sprinkling effective levity on a plate of hard to swallow subjectivity.
Larraín agreeably hits the nail on the head in tying the familiarly seedy underbelly of the Catholic Church to a narrative that’s neither nihilistic or entirely shunning. It aptly paints a portrait of what some may consider evil in a manner unlike anything else, combining technical merit with sharp-tongued exchanges that shed unsettling insight into the minds of the corrupt. Certain elements can’t help but feel manipulative on account of the extremes that emerge from characters’ respective pasts, yet The Club‘s overreliance on mood-altering aspects works mostly to its advantage.