The Clan is a mostly true, occasionally comic thriller about an Argentine family that made kidnapping its family business. For a surprisingly long time in the 1980s, the upper-middle-class Puccios seemed sincerely convinced that the family that slays together stays together, although you'd never guess that backstory when you meet 20-something Alejandro Puccio on screen, scoring a goal in a championship rugby match.
He's the team's best player, popular, movie-star handsome, with a job in his family's sporting goods store. And also in the family's other business — one they don't talk about. In a country where a recent military dictatorship "disappeared" tens of thousands claiming they were subversives, the Puccios have taken to kidnapping their own neighbors with a ruthless efficiency they learned from the authorities. One victim, a teammate of Alejandro's, is pulled from a car in an abduction so much like the regime's political kidnappings, that his first impulse is to yell "No fuimos nada!" ("We didn't do anything!")
The military is no longer in charge, but Alejandro's father doesn't think democracy will last. And as he still has friends in high places, he's decided to do for personal profit what the right-wing regime did for political control. A ransom will be paid, and Alejandro expects his teammate will then be released. It takes him a while to realize that that's not really his father's game plan.
El Clan, as the film is known in Argentina, was a monster hit there, partly because director Pablo Trapero makes it easy to see this family as a stand-in for Argentine society — Dad, brutal and dictatorial, riding herd over family members who are aware of what's happening even if they're not directly participating.
There's an eerie, outside-looking-in quality to the way life goes on despite what everyone knows are the horrors being committed out of sight. Scenes with the family washing dishes, say, with noise from the television not quite drowning out the shouts or pounding of a captive in the basement.
The director uses a pop soundtrack from the period much as Martin Scorsese would — an older woman being abducted to the tune of "Just A Gigolo," say — lending the film a gangster-flick aesthetic.
That the gangsters in this case were real, and that they learned their trade from a gangster government, makes The Clan an intriguingly unnerving little civics lesson.