Discover Now: Pablo Trapero

With our full Pablo Trapero collection now available on Curzon Home Cinema, it seems only fitting that this highly acclaimed film-maker be the focus for the launch of our new retrospective digital series - Discover Now.

For the fourth and final part we take a look at the critically lauded WHITE ELEPHANT.




Cannes Film Festival

London Film Festival

For the fourth and final part of our Discover Now series on Pablo Trapero, we take a look at WHITE ELEPHANT (ELEFANTE BLANCO).

A powerful and gripping story following the lives of two maverick Catholic priests, a community worker and their desperate attempts to save the poverty stricken and warring factions of Buenos Aires’ infamous slum community from certain destruction. WHITE ELEPHANT is inspired by (and dedicated to) the work of the late Father Carlos Mugica and examines the fine line between good and evil, and how in the final analysis, what we choose to fight for in life will ultimately define us.

Starring Ricardo Darín (star of the Oscar®-winning THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES, CARANCHO) Jérémie Renier (POTICHE, IN BRUGES) and Martina Gusman (CARANCHO and multi award-winning star of LION’S DEN). Featuring an epic score by multi-award winning composer Michael Nyman.

Watch the trailer here

WHITE ELEPHANT - An Interview with Pablo Trapero



What is the connection between the film and our times?

White Elephant (Elefante Blanco) is a film that connects with different periods of time, almost always accompanied by the work that these priests do in the villas (shanty towns), and we can say that especially in the Hidden City, which is where this film takes place, they have been working there since the late sixties up until now. Many years have gone by, many events, not to mention even tougher stories have taken place since then and not just in this neighbourhood but in the country. What unites this place as a whole after all these years is the people who, generation after generation, have lived in the villa; at first it was a smaller place and then it started to grow, and now it is practically a city unto itself. What we see in the film is not just the current situation of this neighbourhood, but the generations that grew up there, many of them never having the possibility of leaving the villa, and over the years always accompanied by these priests who work side by side with them, doing different things with the locals.

Do you believe that the Catholic Church has done some soul-searching and decided to rectify its position as regards the repression?

With regards to the death of Father Mujica, there are two schools of thought. Because up to now, they are just theories, there has been no trial and justice has never cleared up who was responsible for his death. One group, or a part of history says that it was the Triple A (Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance) in the seventies; they were part of Perón’s government. Another says that it was the Montoneros, a leftist movement that also belongs to Peronism. So it is still not clear, we don’t know who the truly responsible parties for Father Mujica’s death are, or if the Church knew about it, or heard about it or actually took part in the death of Father Mujica. And we’ll never really know for sure. What happened in the seventies was also very paradoxical because, as we all know, there was a part of the Church that backed the repression, while another part of the Church fought it, like the collective of priests known as the “Priests of the Third World” who also suffered mysterious deaths and disappearances. Priests who fought against what was happening in the seventies. So, like in so many parts of society, in Argentina, in the very same place, just as happened in the midst of the families there were two distinct positions. The Church was divided into one part that supported the repression and the military government and another that was against it and with the people, they fought it and some paid with their lives, and it all takes place at the exact same moment in history.

What can we learn now from the discourse that runs through White Elephant?

The different forms of social exclusion, and in general the villas or the shantytowns or whatever they’re called in different countries, are the perfect places to see clearly why there is an organization, a parallel society, that shelters those people who in some way are trying to enter the system. It is more obvious in the villas where people from the inland are trying to make their way to the capital to take refuge, but economic and social differences block their path. They can only make it as far as the villas; that’s the most they can aspire to. The same thing happens in relation to other countries. There are people living in the villas of Buenos Aires that have come from many different communities in Latin America, and who have come in search of progress, so that generates a strong contradiction, a tension between what some believe is progress and others consider exclusion. For many people who have left extreme poverty behind, the villa is truly a great step forward, a step nearer to resources and even infrastructures. And for people coming from the city, quite often it is the place where they end up after having “fallen” from the social structure.

What do you think a movie about (politically) committed priests has to offer?

A film that speaks about committed (involved) priests is actually speaking about committed (involved) people. White Elephant gives us a glimpse of a large portion of people who silently work with commitment, and day-by-day to change things, to change something, at least in those neighbourhoods. The film lets us see not only what Nicolás and Julián, the two priests do, but what Luciana and the work group that accompanies them do. A work group made up by anonymous people who work on a daily basis, fending off everyday difficulties, then structural problems, political, social and economic problems that cannot be fixed by a social worker or a priest, or a person who selflessly comes to the villa to try to work with the people there. What you really see in the film is that there are a lot more people than we thought, and many more than we could have ever imagined who are truly involved on a daily basis, and who in the long run may actually bring some relief to the daily troubles of the inhabitants of this neighbourhood.

During your work as the director, what did you try to imprint on the characters?

Obviously in the film there are three main characters, the three we identify most clearly. Julián played by Ricardo Darín, who is the voice in a way of the generation that continued with the work of the “Priests of the Third World”; he represents the generation right after them, how that movement thinks nowadays and where their involvement resides. Julián is a character that comes from a comfortably off middle-class family, who has felt the pull of social commitment and has strayed from the path laid out by his family and opted to work for the poor.

On the other hand we have Nicolás: he belongs to the next generation, the generation learning from Julián’s. Nicolás played by Jérémie Renier, is the foreign priest. In the film they call him the “gringo priest”, he has travelled all around the world not just around Latin America on humanitarian missions. When the film starts we realize that the connection between Julián and Nicolás did not start in Argentina, but during the trips Julián made following the tradition of the “Priests of the Third World”, spreading the word through different countries.

Nicolás has a more everyday outlook and his work is a bit more distant from the Liberation Theology of the seventies. He is more worried about the relationships with the inhabitants than with religion, and that is clear from the very first moment. His way of working, which is what makes him clash with Julián, basically puts religion to one side and focuses on establishing more direct and personal relationships and this generates friction between them.

The relationship between Nicolás and Julián, that represents the work from the religious side, is complemented by Luciana’s outlook. She is a social worker who has been working with Julián for years, assisting the locals in the different tasks they carry out in the canteen, in the drug rehab workshops, providing academic support, sewing workshops etc. Different activities that allow them to get closer to the locals and that give the locals a chance to find a way out, an occupation, quite often outside the religious and political structures, that is another way of carrying out social work. And then there are a lot of characters that represent the different voices in the neighbourhood: the immigrants, the boys that fight a daily battle to stay away from the trouble that the neighbourhood often represents. And then we see other locals that become characters, people who really find a place to belong in the villa, because they’ve been there for generations, because it’s their neighbourhood, it’s their place, much more so than we can ever see from outside - a place of transit, a stepping stop, an emergency stop. Many of the locals in the film and their families have been there for three or four generations. For other characters we realize that the villa is a place of refuge, a stronghold, especially for drug traffickers and other criminal activities. Sometimes we catch glimpses of illegal gambling and other activities that feel protected by the walls of the villa.

What lesson should Argentinean society learn from its past?

The past of any country and the private life of any person is too vast to teach any single lesson. I believe that all our past experiences make us reflect daily in the present; a country advances when it is capable of reflecting on what has gone before. I don’t believe in totalizing reflections, or in totalizing answers, I think that a way to learn from it is to reflect on it constantly, to use it as a mirror. But I don’t consider myself qualified to evaluate what happened to a society as a whole because I do not believe there is a single answer. What can happen for sure is that, if we look back, we can probably build a better future, and that is a common denominator for any country, for any person.

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CARANCHO, BORN AND BRED, LION’S DEN and WHITE ELEPHANT are all available on Curzon Home Cinema and on DVD through our online store as well as all good retailers. Select titles from the collection are also available through Amazon UK, iTunes and Vimeo. Click the film tabs for further details.

You can follow Pablo Trapero, Ricardo Darín and Martina Gusman on Twitter

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