Film review: White Elephant (15)


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The Independent Culture

At least, Pablo Trapero's well-meaning drama about radical priests in a crime-infested slum in Buenos Aires makes excellent use of street locations. The "white elephant" is an abandoned hospital where families and the priests themselves live.

There is some astonishing camerawork from cinematographer Guillermo Nieto as we follow the priests through the rubble-strewn building or down the maze-like alleyways that surround it. Michael Nyman's score adds to the epic feel.

Drug dealing and gang warfare are rife. The cops are looking for any excuse to cleanse the slums. This is the backdrop as Father Julián (Ricardo Darin) and newcomer Father Nicolás (Jérémie Renier) struggle to improve housing and educational opportunities for the impoverished community.

The problem is the melodramatic and solemn screenplay. The action sequences have an energy reminiscent of City of God but the scenes in which the priests deal with housing problems or struggle with ill health or the temptations of the flesh soon begin to drag.