The Movie Waffler New Release Review - White Elephant | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - White Elephant

Two priests struggle with their work in a decaying Buenos Aires slum.

Directed by: Pablo Trapero
Starring: Ricardo Darín, Jérémie Renier, Martina Gusman

Julian (Darin) and Nicolas (Renier) are two priests who, along with social worker Luciana (Gusman), work tirelessly to improve the lives of the inhabitants of an over-crowded Buenos Aires slum. With two rival gangs controlling the slum and the Catholic hierarchy showing more interest in political bureaucracy than helping the poor, Julian begins to doubt there is any point to his work. Meanwhile, Nicolas and Luciana are conducting a sexual affair in secret.
A couple of years ago, Argentine cinema came to prominence with the Oscar-winning 'The Secret in Their Eyes', a film which dazzled viewers with some of the most outrageous camera trickery ever seen on screen. There's obviously something in the waters of the River Plate that makes film-makers reinvent camera movement as 'White Elephant' also features a raft of "how the hell did they pull that off?" camera tricks. Trapero seems to defy gravity with tracking shots that are baffling in their intricacy. From a technical perspective, his film is a must-see for students of film-making. Those expecting an engaging drama with well written characters will have to look elsewhere.
Trapero's camera glides continuously through his unique slum setting, but never stops to let us get acquainted with any of its inhabitants. The slum-dwellers have no more depth than those we saw mowed down in 'Dredd' or 'The Raid'. The same goes for the two central priest characters. The elder priest, Julian's existential crisis is only touched on, while Nicolas leaves us with the frustratingly unanswered question of why a handsome young Northern European found himself in the priesthood. The subplot of his romance with Luciana is a well worn cliche where priesthood dramas are concerned. The film opens with the two priests escaping a massacre in a Latin American jungle but we never learn exactly what their involvement was here.
It seems strange that Trapero would make a film in this setting as it's one he seems to have little interest in. Focusing so much on dazzling camerawork, as he does, creates the impression he's using 'White Elephant' as little more than a "come and get me" plea to Hollywood.