After watching Spotlight, a film about the exposing of sexual abuse in the Catholic churches of North America, win the best picture of the year at the Academy Awards, it was very interesting to sit down and watch the Chilean Golden Globe nominated film The Club because, together, the two pack a one two punch that is really overwhelmingly powerful. I’m just very grateful that I didn’t watch them back to back or I would be hardly able to write this review right now. Instead it would just be a picture of me in the fetal position. A picture tells a thousand words they say, right?
The subject matter with The Club is much more on the surface than it is in Spotlight, where the victims are more spoken of in a wide inclusion. Yes, a few first hand accounts are given but The Club gives a different point of view to all of this and some damning finger pointing at the church for the treatment of some of their own people that didn’t commit the horrible acts of child abuse but just had a strong attraction to the same sex. These men were demonized right along with the child abusers the church seems to protect in their own way.
The Club is centered around a church run halfway house in a little rundown beach side village where the priests who have committed sexual acts against members of the church (or who are simply just homosexual) reside. There, at the house, the priests are to live their days in penance and look to prayer to absolve them of their sins and tendencies. For the three members currently living at the house, their days consist of quiet reflection under the eye of nun Hermana Mónica, who has her own reasons for being there, and racing their house greyhound at the track.
Everything changes when another priest is sent to the house and immediately starts causing problems. Now old and senile, this new member has no idea why he’s been sent to be rehabilitated and is angry at the thought of staying under the same roof as these other abusive priests. This all comes to a head when a man, looking like a vagrant, calls out the new member by name and lists all the atrocities that were committed on him by this trusted member of the church. This leads the priest to go outside and kill himself violently in front of this accuser.
The remaining three disgraced priests lives in freedom are thrown into doubt when a member of the church is sent to investigate what happened regarding this very public suicide. Interrogating each member with a scalpel like cold probing, this investigator looks to close down the home, forcing each priest into an actual prison sentence, out of the hands of the church. This propels Mónica and some of the others to form a plot that will take the wind out of your sails for a few days. Seriously, the third act of this film will make you cringe and will sear your emotions.
Something I found incredibly interesting in The Club was the story brings two very real antagonist like characters to the story. Firstly there’s this roaming accuser who seems to have a vendetta, not only just for the priest who abused him and subsequently killed himself over the act he couldn’t remember, but the rest of the household for just what they stand for, child abuse and the church seen dirtiness for just simply being gay. This is something that is obviously not well dealt with in the very religious country of Chile.
The second adversary that our mains face off against is the inquisitor from the church, Padre García. His interviews with each member of the house seem to dig at old scars in a way that are certainly meant to draw an attack or a quick reason to shut down the house. With a steely intimidation, Garcia needles each of them, enforcing the reality of why they were sent there. It’s not a spa or a retreat but a place of real penance to make way for real results. As all of these priests are approaching an elderly age, it is assumed that the hope for full rehabilitation is small.
This film is definitely not for the weak of heart as it wears the shock of it’s scandal very much in the open, unflinchingly. Director Pablo Larraín wants to start this conversation and is willing to ask questions on either side of the issue, which may rub viewers the wrong way, maybe prompting the thought that he’s in defense of some of their actions. I think this is more of a “devil’s advocate” move, especially when the accuser character finally has a chance to have a deep conversation with Padre Garcia. The abuse is partly something that shaped his life and actually prompt him to discover some truths about himself. Is this a celebration of something evil? No, but it’s not a complete condemnation either, it just simply is.
Again, I am happy to see that a mainstream award nomination will put this film into the wheelhouse of regular movie goers, because I do believe this film should be seen. That being said, just like Son of Saul, it’s a movie I only need and want to see only the once. It is a brutal and cold film that’s only feelings of warmth are quickly crushed under the heel off the harsh reality of other people’s choices. Just another reason that I feel my love of film drifting towards the foreign landscape. I give The Club a four out of five.