Once again Pablo Larraín examines historic crimes in grim microcosm, this time stewing viewers for ninety minutes in a seaside “center of prayer and penance” for pedophile priests. There, tended by an empathic ex-nun (Antonia Zegers) with a troubling backstory of her own, these corrupted clergymen molder in anonymity, raising a racing dog and enjoying occasional constitutionals along the Chilean coast. (They’re prohibited self-flagellation and self-pleasure.)
But you know how it goes with the sins of the past. A local fisherman susses out who’s living in that purgatorial house and then declaims from the street the story of his own priestly molestation long ago.
Larraín is unsparing with the details, dwelling on foreskin, penetration, and lines like “And sometimes the semen would make me vomit.” That fisherman’s truth-telling inspires an act of violence terrible enough that the Vatican dispatches a psychologist (José Soza) to interview the priests and attempt to understand their pathologies — and also to determine the fate of this damnable colony.
It’s all well acted, especially the interrogations, and its specifics haunt and disturb. But as it aspires to parable it slumps into dark melodrama, with competing scenes of mob violence and individual characters freighted with so much allegoric significance that they stop feeling like people. Larraín never achieves what he pulled off in Post Mortem, a morgue’s-eye look at the rise of Pinochet: With its glibly psychopathic priests and its dispiriting failure to distinguish between pedophilia and homosexuality, The Club never convinces that these troubled souls are unique individuals whose turmoil might be illustrative of much greater historical forces.
Directed by Pablo Larraín
Music Box Films
Opens February 5, Landmark Sunshine and Film Society of Lincoln Center