When everything's a game, it's easier to forget the wrongdoing perpetrated during play. We see this in sports, but we also see this in war, young men and women coping with stress by envisioning their targets as the bad guys in a first-person shooter. In Pablo Trapero's bleak but occasionally cheeky family-crime drama The Clan, the game is played out in devastating ways.
Billed as a thriller, The Clan doesn't quite thrill but instead instills a slow-building dread of the inevitable. As the camera follows closely behind Arquímedes, wandering through the house, calling their clean-cut family to dinner, a final door opens, revealing the bathroom, where a yelping, hooded man lays shackled in the tub.
While Alejandro knows of his father's kidnapping business, and even plays small but crucial parts in the abductions, it is as if the other children in the house — two girls and a boy — cannot hear the whimpering of a strange man in the adjacent room. They simply carry on with their homework and chores. This blatant ignorance of wrongdoing is the crux of the story, and at one point, Alejandro, while calming his younger brother about a rugby match, hits an epiphanic note and advises that it's just a game, better not to make it about life and death. The Clan explores a side to the Dirty War we rarely see, that of the regular humans who got caught up in the evil, unable to escape the game, even after the power got cut. Veteran Argentine actor Guillermo Francella and newcomer Peter Lanzani, as Arquímedes and Alejandro, respectively, deliver surprisingly restrained performances.