Saturday, 13 April 2013

REVIEW - WHITE ELEPHANT


Often, it's better to walk into a film knowing nothing at all about it - not its characters, not its plot, nothing. But with White Elephant, there's one thing you ought to know: It does get on track. It just doesn't quite know which track to take for a while. Sputtering through its early scenes, which have the feel of one of those 'Previously on...' bits at the start of a TV show, it settles in the slums of Buenos Aires, and centres around a group of community workers, specifically two priests. From here, we observe two separate stories entwined - that of the priests and that of the slum, the former being the more prominent, the latter providing atmosphere and tension more than anything else. This is a misguided track, unfortunately, as Pablo Trapero shows a deft hand at distilling the mood of the slum, and at persuading strong performances from the large ensemble. The priests, their tepid, stale stories of personal growth and change, their wan sincerity, one suffering from an illness he dare not divulge lest it distract people's attention from worthier causes, the other wrestling with the sexual attraction he feels towards his female co-worker, who has 'LOVE INTEREST' stamped on her forehead from her first appearance, in case we trusted the writers to dream up such an implausibility as a woman with an agenda of her own. The screenplay ticks off cliches until at runs out of them, so the film has to end. Trapero has a knack for depicting hardship and discomfort, whether it be the brazen brutality of a police raid, or the plain old misery of a long car journey in driving rain. Little details like these, or cigarette embers briefly flickering through the air, barely even registered, enliven White Elephant, although their impermanence renders them largely irrelevant. Michael Nyman provides the score, which is to say he reuses an old score and writes a few new bars, employed only twice; it is typically impressive stuff from Nyman, but almost comically out of place. It's like watching Ken Loach with Carmina Burana on in the background.