Politics remains a point of contention among Pablo Larraín’s family, his father a senator and his mother a minister for the government. In an interview, Larraín has noted that “it’s absolutely possible to be raised by people with a certain way of thinking, yet be educated with freedom and end up thinking differently.” In this regard, Larraín is similar to Ingmar Bergman, who was raised by a militant Lutheran priest as his father. I mention this similarity to Bergman as one of numerous similarities between The Club and Bergman’s oeuvre. Larraín’s choice to shoot The Club in his house in La Boca neighboring the Chilean coast is similar to Bergman’s shooting of numerous films on a house he owned on the Swedish island of Fårö. Similarly, cinematographer Sergio Armstrong of The Club displays a level of minimalist constraint in filming that is comparable to that of Sven Nykvist, favored cinematographer of Ingmar Bergman. Ambiguity is central to The Club and Armstrong conveys this through filming an ever-present haze that sets over the small fishing village. The haze implies a subdued tension present in every moment.
In The Club, disgraced priests live together in a small house apart from society. They are chaperoned by Sister Monica (Antonia Zegers, Larraín’s wife) who ensures that they follow certain rules: the priests are to only go to the city between certain hours and never with company, they may not handle money or cell phones, nor can they self-flagellate or masturbate. They are placed in this house to avoid punishment and, by implication, the infamy that public knowledge of their crimes would bring the Catholic Church. The priests’ primary source of pride and joy in their life is a greyhound Rayo who they train to compete in dog races.
A man, Sandokan (Roberto Farías), who suffered at the hands of one of the priests finds their house and stations himself outside of it, yelling vulgar accusations. His descriptions of sexual crimes committed against him as an altar boy are as perverse as to that in the Marquis de Sade’s writing. The outcome of his visit causes a man sent from the Vatican, Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso), to come to the house and attempt to close it. He interviews each of the priests and Armstrong chooses to film this in close-up, distorting the space behind the faces of the priests. We are hypnotically drawn to the priests’ faces as they talk. They openly lie to Father Garcia and the confusion that develops causes Father Garcia’s involvement in the house to become ineffective and, eventually, immoral. Father Garcia witnesses corruption and violence and finally recognizes his inability to prevent it. The Club is sublime in its lack of predictably and it’s potential to be unsettling.
The Club’s religious themes differ from those explored by Bergman. Larraín chooses to explore the secular theme of corruption rather than explore one’s relation with an elusive God. Nonetheless, themes of isolation and cruelty present in The Club are reminiscent of those in The Passion of Anna. Despite similarities with Bergman’s films, The Club differs most noticeably in its use of music. Whereas Bergman scarcely used music, intending for its usage to be almost unnoticeable, Larraín’s usage of music in The Club is predominant. The soundtrack features Pärt, Britten, and Bach, composers whose music relates to the sacred and whose music is interconnected by their inspirations. Britten was influenced by Bach as was Pärt by Britten; a piece by Pärt used in the film is titled “Cantus in Memorium of Benjamin Britten”. Larraín allows the songs featured to play uninterrupted for minutes, developing the scenes around the rising and falling of sound in the music. The climax of The Club is choreographed perfectly to the music, evoking an operatic sense of fatalism and tragedy.