White Elephant [Elefante Blanco] Movie 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.
The film is packed with remarkably enormous set pieces in which Trapero never loses the humanity. One of the most unnerving scenes involves Nicolas storming right into the heart of kingpin Varela's viper's nest, demanding peace. ("That's a lot to ask for," she replies.) Indeed, the screenplay never takes an easy route through the material, recognising that it's only through raw tenacity that even one life can be turned away from this kind of violent existence. And it challenges us with the idea that perhaps we can make a small difference ourselves.
Cast & Crew
Director : Pablo Trapero
Producer : Alejandro Cacetta, Juan Pablo Galli, Juan Gordon, Pablo Trapero, Juan Vera
Starring : Alejandro Fadel, Martin Mauregui, Santiago Mitre, Pablo Trapero