The Clan (El Clan)

Argentina (2015) Dir. Pablo Trapero

Is it possible to run a kidnapping ring from your own home and keep it from members of your family at the same time? One would think not but in this shocking true story from Argentina that is essentially what happened, although not all of the family members are completely innocent.

The tale of the Puccio family shocked Argentina in the 1980’s when their operation was exposed after being caught during their fourth kidnapping. It is a story of one man’s desire to move his family up the social ladder following the arrival of democracy in Argentina following the Falklands War in 1982, relying on old habits of the past.

Patriarch Arquímedes Puccio (Guillermo Francella) was part of the state’s intelligence services but the end of the war and the ruling administration saw him out of work and needing to support his family – teacher wife Epifanía (Lili Popovich) up and coming rugby star Alejandro (Peter Lanzani), teacher daughter Silvia (Giselle Motta) and school kids Guillermo (Franco Masini) and Adriana (Antonia Bengoechea).

Following the example of an old colleague, Puccio organises the kidnapping of a wealthy team mate of Alejandro’s to be held for ransom but against his son’s knowledge, he kills the victim after receiving the money, claiming he would have exposed the ruse. The family enjoy the fruits of the ill-gotten gains, with future kidnappings arranged whenever more money is needed over the next few years.

It is difficult to imagine that such an activity could take place under the noses of a tight knit family unit and for a few years, Puccio got away with it, at least according to this telling of the story. Director Pablo Trapero only had the initial media reports of Puccio’s family to work from, the rest of the details coming from families of the victims and books on the subject.

Therefore relying on what Trapero depicts here, most of the family were initially unaware of what was going on with only Alejandro a part of the action. Because of Puccio’s past military rank his wife presumably didn’t feel the need to ask questions when her hubby was able to fund a small deli, which later grew to be a profitable sports gear shop as well as a bigger house.

Youngest son Guillermo however witnesses the second victim being brought into the home and decides to leave Argentina after earning a spot on an international rugby tour, then Alejandro, having got a new girlfriend in Monica (Stefanía Koessl), refuses to help his dad any further. Middle son Maguila (Gastón Cocchiarale) returns from abroad and has no compunction in replacing his older brother.

Right up until his death in 2013, Puccio claimed he was innocent, suggesting he was forced into it by a wider group controlling the schemes, which is risible and offensive to the families of those he killed and extorted money from. He also refused to believe that democracy would last in Argentina and that the old regime would return and help cover up his crimes.

Trapero avoids turning this into a political scandal, largely as this information was kept from him, using only news clips from the time of the changes in power to denote the altering landscape against which Puccio is operating. Aside from the odd telephone meeting with his former commodore who seemed to be on Puccio’s case, interference from the authorities doesn’t arrive until the final act when the arrests are made.

For most viewers it is the amazement at how Puccio and the involved members of the family – which may or may have extended beyond the two older brothers – can keep up such a normal façade whilst committing such despicable acts. Trapero illustrates this through a wonderful juxtaposition of Alejandro and Monica in flagrante, her screams of pleasure running concurrently with the screams of agony of a kidnap victim.  

Conversely the use of jaunty pop songs from The Kinks and David Lee Roth seems frivolous, yet there is nothing to laugh about with images of people forced into a car at gunpoint or Puccio dictating a poignant letter to his sobbing victim. Whilst the film is presented as a retro drama these scenes add a grisly horror aspect, stopping short of bloodletting but showing enough of the harrowing deprivation the victims endure.  

The story doesn’t end with their arrests but carries on through the jail time and pre-trail questioning, with Puccio still maintaining his deluded innocence and trying to subvert his way out of any culpability. The final scene features a failed suicide attempt that is captured in one startling shot, clearly a mix of real life and CGI yet the blend is smooth, the results terrifyingly convincing and upsetting.

Puccio gets the lion’s share of the mentions in this review, as this was all his doing, from being the chief architect, the centrifugal force, and the glue holding it all together. To that end the casting of veteran Guillermo Francella pays dividends for Trapero and the audience, his commanding presence and large steely eyes holding our attention with the same hypnotic power Puccio holds over his family.

As Alejandro, former child model and TV actor Peter Lanzani, in his first major film role, holds his own in such esteemed company, acutely portraying the fine line his character walks in being complicit yet conflicted about his role in the kidnapping schemes crumbling under the weight of his father’s influence. The women offer solid support but are sadly not featured enough to make a significant  impact.

In a case like this with such a fascinating story to tell, Trapero avoids sensationalism and demonising the characters, letting their actions be our evidence for judging them. The Clan therefore becomes a film that is rewarding for domestic audiences in filling in the blanks left by media reports of the period, while international viewers are discovering this shocking tale for the first time, told in such an engrossing yet gnarly manner.


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