Original title: Elefante blanco
Direction: Pablo Trapero
Writers: : Pablo Trapero, Martín Mauregui, Alejandro Fadel, Santiago Mitre
Cast: Ricardo Darín, Jérémie Renier, Martina Gusman, Federico Benjamín Barga, Mauricio Minetti, Walter Jakob
Cinematography: Guillermo Nieto
Edition: Nacho Ruiz Capillas, Andrés Pepe Estrada, Pablo Trapero
Music: Michael Nyman
Runtime: 106 minutes
About the questions and the answers
By Rodrigo Seijas
Since practically the beginning of his cinematographic career, Pablo Trapero has been holding his cinema relying in a large thematic and narrative ambition, with El bonaerense, Born and bred, Lion´s den and Carancho as top examples. In these last three films, he consolidated a great formal perfection, using complex sequence shots and images with multiplicity of elements in the depth of field that enriched the story.
White elephant returns to these characteristics, with a story centered in the priest Julián, played by Ricardo Darín, who calls a Belgian colleague, Nicolas (Jérémie Renier), to work together in a shantytown known as Ciudad Oculta (Hidden City), that has grown in the shadow of an antique venture from the first years of the peronism, destined to be the largest hospital in Latin America, aim never reached in the end, and whose foundations are known by nearby residents as the “White elephant”. The third starring character in the story is Luciana (Martina Guzmán), as a social worker that works side by side with them, and ends up having an affair with Nicolas. But that is just the tip of the iceberg: the plot is also based on the violent encounters between drug dealers, the political disputes related to state housing issues, the poverty as a concept and way of life, faith and religion and its perspectives on death.
Trapero is undoubtedly a pretentious filmmaker, but during much of the footage, like in Carancho, he manages to make pretentiousness a positive value, because he concretes what purports. He basically achieves that based in a double operation, as obvious as difficult: he does not underestimate the area addressed, nor the actors involved, neither shrinks to what is presented to him. Unlike the worst moments of El bonaerense, Born and bred or Lion´s den, he does not contemplate his characters with a hint of superiority, nor manipulates the facts to ratify his glance and objectives. Instead, he allows himself to let emerge the various gray areas of the universe in which the protagonist circulate, with their twist and turns, contradictions, desires, their need to be listened and understood, but also to listen and understand. As few times in the Argentine cinema, White elephant achieves to problematize, putting in collision positive and negative aspects, institutions of various kinds, like Church or the Police. Besides, variables like religion, crime, drugs and the need for a place to live and work coexist in the film without quickly and reassuring judgments commonly used by liberal filmmakers, like the case of Juan José Campanella (The secret in their eyes): a prime example is the splendid sequence shot where Nicolas goes to the lair of a drug gang to pick up the a young man´s corpse that they retain, after a shootout framed in a territorial dispute. The scene, claustrophobic and chilling, of a rarely seen contain violence, also serves as spearhead to put on sight a series of individual bodies embedded in a particular context, as well determined: bodies fearful but decided; bodies margined both by law and society; bodies abused and violated even after death, life war trophies; bodies contesting power and using other bodies in their fights; working bodies but traversed by crime; bodies with faith but claiming for the presence of God; bodies broken by the lost of familiar bodies. The point of view is, undoubtedly, from the side of the poor people, whom are not claimed from the demagoguery, neither easily judged.
However, in its second part of, White elephant falls in the same mistake of the end from Carancho, where Trapero seemed to be forced to issue a thesis, but forcing the facts and the main couple. In his new movie, facing the numerous subplots and thematic that opens, he makes the mistake (by the way, quite understandable) of wanting to close everything, when the narrative frame actually asked to remain open and subject to various interpretations and problematizations. Paradoxically, the director´s attempt to reach a conclusion leaves all rather messy. It is like he opens a big Pandora´s box, displays a great amount of elements and then pretends to resave all, without observing that the grace and wealth provided consisted in showing something hidden that remains unsolved. The movie adressed a time and place of life, in permanent progression, and the decisions made by Trapero introduce an emphatic and senseless interruption.
Is White elephant bad then? No, although it fails in its finals purposes. Nevertheless, is controversial and exciting in many of its sections, and deserves to be considered and appreciated with patience and care. It cannot be said the same for the vast majority of worldwide cinema.