Paedophile priest drama The Club stuns Berlin film fest

BERLIN (AFP) - An explosive film by acclaimed Chilean director Pablo Larrain about paedophile priests given refuge from justice by the Roman Catholic Church sent a jolt through the Berlin film festival Monday.

A drama with tinges of black comedy, The Club tells the story of five former clerics and a nun living together in a seaside town in a kind of purgatory for their sins.

When Father Lazcano moves in, a drunk and dishevelled man comes to the gate of the home and shouts in graphic detail about how the clergyman repeatedly raped him as a child.

One of the other priests hands Father Lazcano a gun "to fire in the air and scare him off". Thus begins a scandal that threatens to expose the small colony of exiles from the Church, before a Vatican emissary is dispatched to deal with the affair.

A brutal cover-up ensues but a remarkable twist at the end reveals the hurdles to escaping worldly justice.

Larrain, who was nominated for an Oscar for "No", his 2012 dark comic take on Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship starring Gael Garcia Bernal, said there were dozens of such homes for priests accused of abuse across Latin America.

"I went to a Catholic school and I knew three types of priest - those who were good people who really see this as a path toward sainthood, then there were other priests who are now in jail facing trial, and then there were those priests who simply disappeared," he told reporters after a press preview.

Larrain said he believed the Vatican saw priests as above the law.

"The Church does not believe that civil justice should be apportioned - they think that it is a matter for God," the 38-year-old director said.

Jessica Kiang, a critic for movie website Indiewire, called it a "furious film" that "burst onto the screen" at the 11-day festival.

"A bold, blunt, yet clinically intelligent film that provokes as much for its dark humour as for its righteous outrage, it's all at once a gripping thriller, an incendiary social critique and a mordant moral fable," she wrote.

The Club is one of 19 contenders for the top Golden Bear prize at the Berlinale, the first major European film festival of the year.

A second Chilean competition entry, documentary The Pearl Button, also garnered critical praise.

The film by Patricio Guzman uses the central image of the button to trace an arc from the exploitation and massacre of the country's indigenous people to the victims of Pinochet's regime.

Buttons were used as trinkets by voracious settlers to "pay" for stolen land.

And a small pearl button was found embedded in a steel rail used to weigh down the body of a murdered dissident under Pinochet, one of an estimated 1,400 people who were hurled from military planes over the Pacific during the 1973-1990 dictatorship.

Guzman, 73, best known for previous documentaries about Chile's recent history including Salvador Allende and Nostalgia for the Light, said his films aimed to expose hidden truths to help the country heal.

"Chile is a country full of untold stories, where the victors have always been the historians," Guzman told reporters.

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