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White Elephant [Elefante Blanco] Review


A true story from Argentina, this blistering drama is produced on a grand scale that really captures the intensity of the story. And as we're impressed with the quality of the filmmaking, we're also drawn in by a remarkably personal story about flawed people trying to make a difference. It's an important film, filled with sparky people who give us hope for humanity.

The "white elephant" of the title is a massive hospital construction site that sits unfinished on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Over the years, a vast slum has grown up around this edifice, causing another layer of embarrassment to politicians. Especially since the sprawling shantytown is run by warring drug lords (Gatti and Varela) who square off with both the ruthless riot police and the local people who are fed up with violence. Right in the middle of all of this is an inspirational priest, Father Julien (Darin), who drafts in his Belgian priest friend Nicolas (Renier) and social worker Luciana (Gusman) to help. But things are getting increasingly precarious for them all.

Expert filmmaker Trapero (who worked with Darin in Carancho and Gusman in Lion's Den) takes the time to explore all of the characters with remarkable depth. We begin to understand what draws Julien, Nicolas and Luciana to this dangerous place in which they can only barely hold out hope that they'll make a difference. And all three of them have severe experiences that remind them of their fragility. Darin is terrific at capturing Julien's reluctant realism, while his physical illness raises other issues for him. Renier gives Nicolas a gritty crisis of faith, as well as a moment of shocking steeliness. And Gusman as always holds the camera in her fierce gaze.

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Juan Gordon:
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