It’s no secret that the world’s wealthiest, tax-free organisation aka the Vatican preserves the sacrament of priesthood like it’s the Holy Grail, sending so-called disgraced priests into faraway homes in the farthest of isles to face penitence for their mortal sins – most of which involves child abuse. Alex Gibney’s explosive documentary Mea Maxima Culpa not so much explored but blows the lid wide open on Catholicism’s centuries-old cover-up on paedophilia so thoroughly and so damningly that you’ll find yourself subconsciously recoil every time you walk past a church. Now, hotshot Chilean director Palo Larraín fans more flames to the fire that deservingly incinerates the hypocrisy of Earth’s most worshipped religion. But where Gibney’s focus is on the victims’ real-life accounts, Larrain flips perspectives and goes in for the kill by dramatically rounding up on the perpetrators, portraying the titular club of fallen clergies and the spectacular range of past offences that come to haunt their present recuperative idyll.[divider]+[/divider]
The Club, with all its humanism, insists and demands for all this grotesquery to stop, pointing all the way up to a religious system that breeds untruths and destruction and preys on the weak and vulnerable.[divider]+[/divider]
Here, four priests (and a nun-cum-wardress) have all committed transgressions, literally imprisoned under the Vatican’s concealment of systemic crimes. Things get uglier when a fifth priest with a licentious baggage turns up in their doorstep, setting a domino-effect of dark, dissolute confessions, elaborate chicaneries and all sorts of wrongdoings all in the sacred name of the Catholic Church. Larraín, working his masterful, purposeful provocation, delves deep into his profoundly flawed characters’ psyches, revealing them one by one as either damaged or delusional. These are men who are confronted by their own sexual ways, wrestling against their irrational beliefs of unhealthy abstinence. “I should know. After all, I’m the King of Repression,” bitterly mutters Alfredo Castro’s Father Vidal, arguably the film’s most tragicomic character.
Pitch black humour punctuates this mordant affair, as a Vatican bureaucrat jets down into this windswept hideaway to investigate a tragedy, with Larraín adopting a reverse-Rashomon approach where all players involved conspire to hide the truth by recounting their own self-serving version of the incident. But the smoke will always out once fire has burnt – and that renegade smoke takes the form of Sandokan, an uproarious, clearly mentally disturbed vagrant who happens to be a victim of priestly abuse, raising hell on his sexual violators. Larraín, whose Pinochet trilogy (Tony Manero, Post Mortem and No) serves as a testament to the director’s fury against Chile’s fraught history under dictatorship, condemns Catholicism, another form of oppressive totalitarianism, and the reciprocal nature of abuse, revenge, control and endless fucking suffering. The Club, with all its humanism, insists and demands for all this grotesquery to stop, pointing all the way up to a religious system that breeds untruths and destruction and preys on the weak and vulnerable.