'The Club' Director Pablo Larrain: "The Old Church Is Still Very Present"

Pablo Larrain - H 2016
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

The acclaimed Chilean director, currently shooting 'Jackie' with Natalie Portman, discusses his scathing religious drama which opens in the U.S. on Feb 5.

Spotlight isn't the only recent drama to take a probing look at corruption within the Catholic church. Chilean helmer  Pablo Larrain's The Club, which opens in the U.S. on Feb. 5 tells the story of four priests (Alfredo Castro, Alejandro Goic, Jaime Vadell, and Alejandro Sieveking) who live in a secluded home in a foggy seashore town, exiled by the Church because of their sins. After a deadly incident at the house involving a man who was abused by one of them as a child, these banished middle-aged men of the cloth receive a visit from an investigator/inquisitor from the Church.

The man responsible for Chile's 2012 Oscar nomination for No, Larraín has been one of the leading figures in the recent  boom of his country's cinema, collecting awards with his previous films, including an Oscar nominatin for 2012's No. After his upcoming biopic Neruda – starring Gael Garcia BernalLarrain is now making his jump to Hollywood, with the Jacqueline Kennedy biopic Jackie, starring Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard.

"[The Club] is a rather old story we picked up after learning that priests who committed different kinds of crimes were disavowed from the Church and secretly taken to houses that operate all around the world," Larrain recently told The Hollywood Reporter from Paris, the latest stop in his PR tour accompanying The Club's European release.

"We'd learned of a very particular situation, which is the existence of these hidden asylums where they take these priests who are in trouble –who committed sins, according to the Church's own language. And they are taken there to live in a place of forgiveness, seclusion, praying, and guilt, and that's a place where I believe it's interesting to put a camera in," he added. These homes were also depicted in Oscar nominated Spotlight, which focuses on The Boston Globe's investigation of the Church's legal handling of accused priests.

"These are very reduced places, and we thought one could enter these spaces and find a whole universe where there is a certain humanity at risk, a humanity with guilt, a humanity that doesn't redeem itself. It is there, breathing. And that's quite interesting," said Larrain.

A merciless observer of Chilean society's darkest undercurrents, the filmmaker acknowledges things are changing within the leadership of the Catholic religion under Pope Francis, but he says those changes are unlikely to reach his country anytime soon. "There's definitely a trend of a New Church," said Larrain. "Yet today the Chilean Church is still run by a curia that works with ancient rules, and chooses to cover and protect priests who have committed crimes. It's a trapped Church and, sadly, they have caused a lot of pain among its followers in Chile, which is a very catholic country." 

While political and ethical concerns embedded in Chilean history have clearly been targets of Larrain's storytelling interest, the filmmaker insists on stepping out of the "political cinema" label. "As long as there is a humanity at risk and an interesting ethical concern, I believe it's worth doing something. When you make political cinema, or films with religious content, cinema tends to be regarded as a very responsible activity, a kind of artistic civil responsibility. And I don't feel that way. I feel much more responsible of making a good film, one that is universal and interesting, and carries esthetic, ethical, and artistic value," he explains.

"In that sense, I feel much more comfortable being irresponsible rather than responsible," said Larrain. "Assigning yourself a responsibility seems dangerous and preachy to me. I think it's best to stay away from your comfort zone but at the same time doing something that has a sharp edge, and somehow affects susceptibilities, because in the end that's what is important: how a film can affect susceptibilities, whatever those may be. We all have them, sort of, but that's the key".