|London Film Festival Review: White Elephant|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Saturday, 20 October 2012 12:25|
Director: Pablo Trapero
In the middle of Buenos Aires, there's a slum overshadowed by a giant building site. It was going to be the biggest hospital in Latin America, right up until the government cancelled construction. Now it sits there, dilapidated, unfinished, surrounded by shanty homes. Its nickname? The White Elephant.
Into the slum comes Father Nicolas (Renier), a good friend of parish priest Julian (Darin). He's been living there for years. The routine for the padres is simple: get up, pray, give out food to the people, shelter them during police raids, repair the buildings, clean up the chapel, deal with their own crises of faith, conduct funerals – and that’s just the easy stuff.
Things go from bad to worse pretty quickly. Monito, a young kid living in the slum, gets caught up with drug dealers, bringing even more cops into the camp. Nicolas falls for Julian’s assistant, Luciana (Gusman). And Julian himself is dying from a serious illness.
Which storyline should we follow? It’s hard to say. But while White Elephant stomps in several directions, Pablo Trapero makes sure each footstep falls with a bang. After Carancho’s car-crash immediacy, the director captures the sprawling location with a raw style that feels closer to documentary than fiction. The fact that his previous films have already made a difference to society – leading to the changing of several laws – only confirms the impact of his work.
His characters are equally real, with Gusman and Renier’s chemistry led by a blistering turn from Ricardo Darin. Always intense but never unlikeable, he’s surely one of the best actor/beard double-acts working today.
Combined, the actors and raw sense of location make up for the script’s shortcomings. Even when its out of focus, White Elephant has a clarity that scratches at your eyeballs. Gritty, intense, powerful stuff.