White Elephant (Elephante Blanco)
Director: Pablo Trapero
Cast: Richardo Darin, Jeremie Renier, Martina Gusman
Country of Origin: Argentina 2012
Language: Spanish with English subtitles 105 mins.
'White Elephant is dedicated to Carlos Mugica, the campaigning local Marxist priest assassinated in Buenas Aires in 1974 and is about faith, hope and the role of conscience'.
Father Julian (Ricardo Darin) and his new younger Belgian colleague, Father Nicholas (Jeremie Renier) care for the poor and homeless in the Villa Virgin shantytown in the shadow of the White Elephant,the cathedral of poverty a ruined 1930s former TB hospital in Buenas Aires. Drug dealing is rife and violent gang warfare is part of everyday life. Father Nicholas, adopts a more radical approach and mediates with the drug cartels and bureaucracy but Father Julian argues that it will compromise their priesthood and is more inclined to listen to his superiors in his efforts to complete a housing project in the shadow of the huge unfinished and derelict hospital.
Set against a background of social deprivation in Argentina, it has strong emotional power and Guillermo Nieto's excellent camera work gives the film a feeling of cinema verite but there's something lacking. It doesn't explore the political and bureaucratic corruption that's an integral part of such a scenario. The Junta were in power in Argentina 1976 - 1983 and the 'theology of liberation', a radical form of Catholicism was popular in the South American church at the time. The movie's almost too romanticised, and I don't refer to Father Nicholas's affair with Luciana (Martina Gusman), a social worker involved with the housing project. With such a socio-political backdrop it's simply not gutsy enough.