A stimulating blend of raw documentary-style realism and carefully crafted suspense, applied to the work of Catholic priests in a massive Buenos Aires slum.
Even if a screening is sold out, tickets are often available 30 minutes before the start of the film at the box office at each venue.
- Director Pablo Trapero
- Producer Juan Gordon, Pablo Trapero, Juan Pablo Galli, Juan Vera, Alejandro Cacetta
- Screenwriter Alejandro Fadel, Martín Mauregui, Santiago Mitre, Pablo Trapero
- With Ricardo Darín, Martina Gusmán, Jérémie Renier
- Spain-Argentina-France 2012
- 110 mins
- UK distribution Axiom
Argentina’s always rewarding Pablo Trapero returns with a typically stimulating blend of raw documentary-style realism and carefully crafted suspense, applied this time to the work of Catholic priests in a massive Buenos Aires slum. Julián enlists friend and fellow priest Nicolas in his struggle to improve conditions, reduce criminality and protect the inhabitants from druglords and cops; trouble is, the Frenchman, already scarred by an earlier experience, is coming to question his calling, especially after encountering social worker Luciana. Authenticity is clearly one of the film’s greatest strengths: with a narrative rooted in characterisation and issues rather than uplifting plot clichés, its depiction of life in the slum rings terribly true. The script, alert to moral nuance and political argument, along with the immediacy of both performances and pacy direction together make for gripping, intelligent, powerful drama.
What is the connection between the film and our times?
White Elephant is a film that connects with different periods of time, almost always accompanied by the work that these priests do in the villas (shantytowns), and we can say that, especially in the Hidden City, which is where this film takes place, they have been working there since the late sixties up until now. Many years have gone by, many events – not to mention even tougher stories – have taken place since then, and not just in this neighbourhood, but in the country. What unites this place as a whole after all these years is the people who, generation after generation, have lived in the villa; at first it was a smaller place and then it started to grow and, now, it is practically a city unto itself. What we can see in the film is not just the current situation of this neighbourhood, but the generations that grew up there, many of them never having the possibility of leaving the villa and, over the years, always accompanied by these priests who work by side by side with them, doing different things with the locals.
Do you believe that the Catholic Church has done some soul-searching and decided to rectify its position as regards the repression?
As regards the death of Father Mujica, there are two schools of thought. Because, up to now, they are just theories, there has been no trial, and justice has never cleared up who was responsible for his death. One group, or a part of history, says that it was the Triple A (Argentine Anticommunist Alliance); in the seventies they were part of Perón’s government. Another says that it was the Montoneros, a leftist movement that also belongs to Peronism. So it is still not clear, it has never been cleared up, we don’t know who the truly responsible parties for Father Mujica’s death are, or if the Church knew about it, or heard about it or actually took part in the death of Father Mujica. And we’ll never really know for sure. What happened in the seventies was also very paradoxical because, as we all know, there was a part of the Church that backed the repression, while another part of the Church fought it, like the collective of priests known as the ‘Priests of the Third World’, who also suffered mysterious deaths and disappearances. Priests who fought against what was happening in the seventies. So, as in so many parts of society, in Argentina, in the very same place, just as happened in the midst of the families, there were two distinct positions. The Church was divided into one part that supported the repression and the military government, and another that was against it and with the people, they fought it and some paid with their lives, and it all takes place at the exact same moment in history.
What can we learn now, in 2012, from the discourse that runs through White Elephant?
The different forms of social exclusion and, in general, the villas or the shantytowns or whatever they’re called in different places, in different countries, are the perfect places to see clearly why there is an organisation, a parallel society, that shelters those people who, in some way, are trying to enter the system. It is more obvious in the villas where people from the inland are trying to make their way to the capital to take refuge, but economical and social differences block their path. They can only make it as far as the villas; that’s the most they can aspire to. The same thing happens in relation to other countries. There are people living in the villas of Buenos Aires who have come from many different communities in Latin America, and who have come in search of progress, so that generates a strong contradiction, a tension between what some believe is progress and others consider exclusion. For many people who have left extreme poverty behind, the villa is truly a great step forward, a step nearer resources and even infrastructures. And, for people coming from the city, quite often it is the place where they end up after having ‘fallen’ from the social structure.
Born in 1971 in San Justo, in Buenos Aires province, he studied architecture and film at the Universidad del Cine. In 1999 he directed his first feature film, Crane World, which won awards at Venice and Rotterdam as well as in Argentina. Alongside his directorial work he has also produced such films as La Libertad by Lisandro Alonso and Enrique Bellande’s documentary Ciudad de Maria, and in 2002 established his own company, Matanza Cine, which has backed such successful and controversial movies as Albertina Carri’s Géminis and La Rabia. El Bonaerense played at the 2002 LFF, Born and Bred in the 2006 event, Lion’s Den in 2008 and Carancho in 2010.
1993 Mocoso malcriado (Spoilt Brat) [s]
1995 Negocios (Shops) [s]
1999 Mundo grúa (Crane World)
2001 Naikor, la estación de servicio [doc s]
2002 El Bonaerense
2003 Ensayo [TV]
2004 Familia Rodante (Rolling Family)
2006 Nacido y criado (Born and Bred)
2008 Leonera (Lion’s Den); Stories on Human Rights [ep Sobras only]
2010 Carancho; Nómade [s] 2011 Naif [s] 2012 Seven Days in Havana [ep Jam Session only]; Elefante blanco (White Elephant)