White Elephant

Pablo Trapero is a socially-committed filmmaker who delivers powerful movies. After “Leonera” (2008) and “Carancho” (2010) he delves into one of Argentina’s more bothersome problems, its everspreading urban slums.

In an Argentina that’s been licking its economic wounds, the slum have become a supporting character in and of itself. In the vein of Ken Loach or Fernando Meirelles Pablo Trapero depicts the saddening reality in which hope is made to withstand injustice and inequality, making good use of the visual and narrative possibilities of his story’s environment.

“White Elephant” (original title: “Elefante Blanco”) recounts the daily difficulties that two priests and a social worker are confronted with in dealing with a slum community. Rampant poverty, violence and injustice are a part of daily life there. But instead of exploiting the environmental misery or allowing a subplot involving one of the priest’s questioning of his own faith gain too much traction Trapero keeps the movie apace with intelligence and sensitivity.

One strength of “Elephant” is in its cast. In addition to Martina Guzman and Ricardo Darin–the social worker and the pastor, respectively–Jérémie Renier, a Belgian actor who’s more or less become France’s adoptive son since portraying Claude François–France’s M.J.–in “CloClo”, has rarely been so intense and moving. All three actors together pay moving tribute to the anonymous men and women, the ordinary heroes who risk their lives daily to devote themselves to others.

In these times of crisis and inequality the appeal of “Elephant” is all the more universal. Trapero puts humans (including those in service to God) back in front of their responsibilities and invests them with courage–albeit not without sparing them, either. In “White Elephant” men and women are involved and are committed, and mostly they fight, they fight to not give up, not to be discouraged, not to give in despite the many internal and external pressures placed on slum life.

“White Elephant” (Argentina / France / Spain), 111 minutes, Spanish.

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