‘Elefante Blanco’ masterfully narrates the raw and tragic realities of life in a Buenos Aires villa. It is a story of struggle, faith, crime and hope told through the lives of two priests and a social worker. With the use of complex characters and powerful scenery, the film manages to shed light on a difficult social issue that is often ignored by the masses.
In the opening scenes of the film, the viewer is taken to the Elefante Blanco, a massive and dilapidated grey building in the heart of a Buenos Aires villa. The building was once destined to be the largest hospital in all of Latin America but was never finished. After President Juan Domingo Perón was ousted in 1955, the building remained abandoned and became synonymous with stagnant poverty.
Elefante Blanco not only serves as the title of the film, but also captures the spirit and tone of the story. Like the building, the people living and working in the villas in and around Buenos Aires find themselves rundown but still standing with hope that things will one day improve. The film takes the audience to this reality and gives them a taste of its bitterness.
Argentina’s golden actor Ricardo Darín returns to the big screen to embody Gerónimo, a 45-year-old priest that invites younger priest Nicolas (Jérémie Renier) to work alongside him in his church located in Villa Virgen. Surrounded by an atmosphere of drug traffickers and poverty, the priests grapple with doubt and frustration. They are joined in their mission by Luciana (Martina Gusman), an atheist social worker that is looking to escape the risks of her current life.
Together, the three characters battle governmental corruption, church hierarchy, crime, marginalisation and multiple murders. As average citizens, they find themselves weak when confronting governmental powers. Despite these struggles, their passion to help the poor sustains them until a violent twist forces Nicolas to make a dramatic decision. In the end, it is friendship and faith that brings light to a setting of seemingly hopeless darkness.
The two hour film is bluntly raw and this, above all, sets it apart from other films covering similar topics. The priests are seen working amidst a bloody drug war that has as its victims teenagers and even young children. The police are shown as a brutish force that punishes the people in an animalistic manner. This violence gives viewers an intimate inside look into what life might really be like in the villas that so frequently make porteño headlines for the wrong reasons.
The scenes of conflict will leave the viewer both shocked and in awe. The loyalty of the priests to the people and their courage to bring change, however, provides a positive message of possibility. ‘Elefante Blanco’ is a must-see film that can both educate and inspire the masses. If anything, it will help motivate the viewer to get involved and not turn a blind eye to the atrocities occurring in the forgotten parts Buenos Aires.