By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
To be honest, I don’t really understand the Criterion Cannes uses to select its In Competition and Un Certain Regard films. They appear to be entirely director-driven, but I’m not sure if the films are actually screened first before chosen. So anytime Takashi Miike has a new flick out, it ends up In Competition, even though by a generous estimation, 50% of his output is crap.
You don’t say.
Cannes is a great way to get a snapshot of today’s hot directors in the World Cinema scene, however, and I still try to watch every In Competition and Un Certain Regard film I can get my hands on (not always an easy task). White Elephant is from Argentine Pablo Trapero, about a Buenos Aires slum and the belabored priests and social workers doing their best for its people, including an older priest looking for someone to replace him (Ricardo Darin), a young French priest with a troubled past who is his choice (Jeremie Renier), and an atheistic social worker (Martina Gusman) who provides solace to the young Frenchman.
From the very first scene, it’s evident that Trapero has an incredible eye for staging and shooting a scene, often in original and elliptical ways. White Elephant is a gorgeous film to look at (and listen to- it has a great score), full of perfect images and a bevy of incredible tracking shots that give Scorcese or that awesome True Detective shootout shot a run for their money.
If you didn’t pop a boner (or ladyboner) during this scene, we can’t be friends
While there are several kinetic, terrifying bursts of sudden violence in this vein, this film is more about damaged souls and the call, pains, and pleasures of service. All three of the central performances are very strong, as they react in their own ways to this impossible situation- caring for this flock while being pressured on all sides by the competing interests of the State, the Church, criminals and police, and the poor themselves. This is also a story of forgiveness, not just of others, but also of yourself, often the harder task. Like real life, it is often dark, but never without rays of hope and faith brightening the horizon.
The one bone I have to pick with the film is a substantial one (almost worth two more beers to me- and if you want to add a third, the film is slow at points). The two priests do have a progressive mindset, at times verging on Liberation Theology, but they’re still priests. The sexual relationship that springs up between Gusman and Renier is a bit much, but defensible as an examination of temptation and comfort. But when Darin’s character also makes a climatic, distinctly unpriestly choice, it’s overkill, and pretty much invalidates his saintly stature at the end of the film. One of the characters should have stayed true to their convictions, especially after the film spends so much time lauding those convictions.
White Elephant is a beautiful, gorgeously made film about giving yourself to others- and all the joys and bitter sacrifices that entails.
Take a Drink: whenever the camera takes a slum tour on its own
Take a Drink: when you see a priest’s collar
Take a Drink: when the ramifications of the first scene start kicking in
Do a Shot: whenever Monito gets in trouble