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Pablo Trapero Talks About ‘The Clan’ at IFF Panama

And anxiety, trusting one’s instincts and Guillermo Francella

Pablo Trapero, IFF Panama 2016
Photo by Martin Dale

PANAMA CITY — Argentine film director Pablo Trapero held a master class at IFF Panama to talk about his latest film, “The Clan,” which is Argentina’s second biggest all-time local hit, after Damián Szifrón’s black comedy “Wild Tales,” and is now playing at the fest.

During a talk held in Panama City’s American Trade Hall, Trapero shared some of his experiences. “I’ve learned to calm my anxiety as a director. Directors always want to start shooting straight away. But it’s better to wait for the conditions to be able to tell your story. Time is always on our side.”

“The Clan” is a based on one of the most chilling events in Argentine crime history, involving a upper middle-class Buenos Aires family, owner of a sports shop, whose secret business was kidnapping and murder. With the patronage of elements of the Argentine military, their business thrives. Pic won a best director Silver Lion at the 2015 Venice Film Festival.

During the talk, Trapero explained that he first heard of the true life story when he was 13 years old. When he finished “Leonera” (2007), he decided to use the story to make a feature film, which is where his research began, but since the original event took place in the 1980s, it was very painstaking and laborious.

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One key issue was to ascertain whether the convicted family members were actually guilt of the crimes: The Argentine military junta at the time sometimes fabricated evidence against patsies, to hide its own skullduggery.

“Ultimately a film is a thesis,” suggested Trapero. “One has an idea and puts it forward. At the end of the movie you’ll find out whether the thesis was good or bad. Directors have to trust your instincts; in film there is no comfort zone. It’s a permanent challenge.”

Trapero explained that his key goal was to understand the psychology of the family members, since on the surface they were respected members of their bourgeois community yet became involved in heinous crimes.

He said that before making any film there has to be something that clicks for him, when he realizes that there is a strong personal story to be told. He starts with the characters rather than the overall storyline. The narrative then evolves organically from his understanding of the characters and, if there is a plot twist, it is related to a transformation of the characters, rather than an external twist.

He also confided that he needs to feel a connection to his own personal life, not through a direct personal experience but by finding elements that he can identify with.

Trapero put together a research team of journalists, lawyers and criminal experts for “The Clan” and spoke to family members linked to the convicted family and also people linked to the victims.

The main actor in “The Clan,” Guillermo Francella, is a well-known comedy actor. Trapero believed he was the perfect match for the role because of the immediate trust and empathy that the actor creates. However, they had to work extensively during rehearsals in order to avoid using acting ticks that would make the role similar to any of Francella’s previous roles.

Unlike his previous pics, in which he used a filming style closer to documentary, Trapero chose a more deliberate filmic style for “The Clan” including anamorphic lenses from the 1980s that gave him the period-piece look he wanted.

“This was a very beautiful experience,” revealed Trapero. “The film constituted new territory for Francella as an actor and for me as a director. It was a question of mutual trust.”