Joshua Reviews Pablo Traperos’ White Elephant [PIFF 2013 Review]


Over the past half decade or so, director Pablo Trapero has become something of a hot commodity. Following the arrival of his last film, Carancho, the director’s name was tossed onto the tips of every film fan’s tongues, and now he’s back with yet another drama (and another starring Ricardo Darin), White Elephant. Too bad it can’t live up to its predecessor.

In White Elephant, we meet the dynamic duo of Julian and Nicolas. Two long time buddies and men of the cloth, they work within a shantytown inside of Buenos Aires. Their plate is full with everything from working with civilians to overseeing a new hospital, then men find their world turned upside down after some citizens are assassinated, and violence is on the rise when drug cartels come into play.

As opposed to a film like the fellow PIFF-playing Post Tenebras Lux, White Elephant has a certain aesthetic, but finds its intrigue within the narrative and its performances.

Inherently a drama about faith and a character study looking at two men and a woman, whose faith comes under attack by existential forces, White Elephant is a gorgeous drama that thrives when it allows its performances to breath. Ricardo Darin stars here opposite Dardenne regular Jeremie Renier, both of whom bring their A-game. Darin plays the experienced padre role with a sense of gravitas, while Renier’s damaged father is one of the most intriguing characters you’ll see early on this year. His character is inherently troubled, but the skill with which Renier embodies that fire and angst is startling and adds a level of depth to the picture. Rounding out the cast is the social worker Luciana, played by Martina Gusman, and her performance wins you over in the moments shared with Renier. The two have a great chemistry, and their relationship feels real and enthralling, natural being the best way to describe this relationship, and all three performances.

However, Trapero isn’t a hack here. Pairing perfectly with Michael Nyman’s breathtaking score, the film is perfectly paced and visually appealing, especially with the cinematography from Guillermo Nieto. Trapero’s camera is at times plaintive and at times fluid, making for a truly engrossing film narratively and aesthetically. The aforementioned score is the key point here, as Nyman’s sweeping score pairs perfectly with Trapero’s thoughtful camera and startlingly on point pacing.

That said, while the film itself may be engaging, the narrative feels oddly inert. The score adds a sense of grandiosity to the plot, but the storylines themselves don’t have much forward movement. The performances are fantastic, but for a narrative to be so dead in the eyes, it’s a truly odd viewing experience. Screening with films like Post Tenebras Lux, this film makes more sense than that Reygadas film, but lacks the sense of depth that excites the viewer into delving deep within its admittedly obtuse and impenetrable narrative.

Overall, while the narrative itself lacks an engine pushing it forward, it isn’t without some sort of momentum. Trapero proves himself an expert craftsman who alongside three top tier performances, but White Elephant still lacks that narrative push to make it truly great. With gorgeous cinematography and a score to kill for, this meditation on life, love, loss and faith is entrancing visually, but you won’t find much of a reward after walking down this solidly paced but less than engaging yellow brick road of a drama.


Thu, Feb 21, 2013
at 8:45 PM (Cinemagic)

Sat, Feb 23, 2013
at 6 PM (Cinema 21)

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.

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