Spanish Contemporary Film Series

The latest in the Language Department’s Spanish contemporary film series was a great film about two Spanish priests in the Slums of Argentina. El Blanco Elefante (The White Elephant), starring the country’s most popular actor and director, Ricardo Darín, tells a moving story about two priests and a social worker who try to make Ciudad Oculta, a slum in Argentina, a better place. Darín plays an old veteran Father named Julián, alongside Jérémie Renier, who plays Julián’s new young Belgian colleague, Father Nicolás.  Martina Gusmán plays Luciana, the social worker who works alongside the priest in their quest to build new housing for the inhabitants of the slums.

The film’s first two scenes, one in a hospital with Julián, and the second one depicting Nicolás running away from a small village as it is being attacked and its villagers murdered, show an interesting contrast between the two Fathers. They both come from entirely different backgrounds and have experienced different things, therefore they bring different things to the table in order to help the people of the slums.

Although the first few minutes of the film are filmed almost entirely without dialogue, the film makes up for it in its presentation. The scenes are beautifully done, with a beautiful contrast in color and background, the scenes certainly catch the audience’s attention. The film does eventually get on its feet when it comes to dialogue and pays attention to the dialogue featured in every aspect of the slum life, making it obvious who is with the church, who’s in the gangs that control the slums, etc. Nicolás experiences some PTSD in relation to the village massacre and wants to quit, but Father Julián tells him to say a prayer to God:

“I want to die for them, let me live for them.”

That line really stuck with me and I think it really let the audience know how invested Julián is in the well-being of the people of the slums.

The film really picks up after the audience learns of the death of a neighborhood boy, a member of one of the rivalling gangs, is brought to the attention of Father Nicolás. The rival gang took the boy’s body and refused to give it to his family. They then brought the problem to Father Nicolás and asked him to reason with the rival gang leader. Although other members of his church and Luciana warn him against it, he goes to get the boy’s body. He succeeds. When he finds out, Julián is livid, he tells Nicolás that it is dangerous for the church to reason with gang leaders.

The gang soon proves its ferocity, after its leader is arrested in a random police raid of the slums, a boy named Monito is sent to threaten the priests. He threatens to cause them bodily harm if they do not keep their noses out of the gang’s business.

The police come again later on, some fights break out, some people are arrested. Overall, the movie was a good one. It had just the right amount of violence, drama, and, surprisingly because it is a movie about priests, sex. The ended could have been better, it stopped rather suddenly and did not offer the audience any kind of closure. Even though the film has not won any recognition since its 2012 release, it certainly is a film to watch because of its powerful messages and depictions of the slums. It is definitely worth watching, and be sure to catch the next and last film in the series, No se aceptan devolucione,  (instructions not included) on April 28 in Shilling 317 at 6:30 pm.