From top Argentine director Pablo Trapero comes this brilliant, chilling film, the sort of thing Scorsese might do if he ever tackled the Fred West story and put it in 1980s Buenos Aires.
It deals with the real-life story of the murderous Puccio family (a story not known to me previously), led by the cold-eyed monster Arquimedes, played by Guillermo Francella, in one of the year’s great performances. While the government has changed, he carries on carrying out what he thinks is secret Junta work, kidnapping people in the streets of a well-heeled suburb and keeping them in his family basement while demanding ransom.
For him, a respectable store owner with many friends in the neighbourhood, he believes he’s carrying on the work of the “disappearings” which were coldly espoused by the dictatorship and which mark so much of Argentina’s history (and films – Chilean cinema is equally scarred by such events in their own country and their own Pablo, Pablo Larrain regularly deals with it on screen).
He enlists the help of his Puma rugby star son, the handsome hero Alex (Juan Pedro Lanzani) showing how endemic such behaviour was in that society, that even a national hero could have darkness lurking under the floorboards. Although you soon get the feeling Arquimedes has become obsessed and is taking things too far, even by the Junta’s standards.
Still, his wife seems to be able to carry on as normal. making family meals which they all eat, taking the left overs down to the hostages.
The film soon loses all political context and instead powers along under its own scary, maniacal steam, as Trapero really pays homage to Marty and underscores the kidnappings with rock music such as his ironic use of the Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon.
Things, maybe deliberately, and definitely a bit frustratingly, aren’t all clear – we never really know if Arquimedes is acting alone or if any other “rogue” disappearing cells are still operating, nor what he’s supposed to do with all the ransom money.
But it’s of little matter – Trapero gives the horror a sense of style and, most alarmingly, a sense of family, where loyalties and duties are all mixed up.and the brutal politics of the dictatorship have clearly given way to a monster of twisted thought and festering evil.