El Clan: The True Story of a Privileged Kidnapping for the Silver Screen

The cast and director of El Clan on the red carpet
The cast and director of El Clan on the red carpet | © Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock | https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/peter-lanzani-pablo-trapero-actor-guillermo-319787171?src=29NuggV0hOFq3aracW3-Rg-1-19
Sorcha O'Higgins

Argentina has plenty of skeletons in its historical closet, but there is one particularly heinous story that is especially hard to believe. However, the tale of the Puccio family, a seemingly normal middle class family from a wealthy suburb of Buenos Aires, is both chilling and true. The story of the murderous patriarch and his complicit family was the subject of a 2015 Argentine film titled El Clan. This is the story of the Puccio clan.

Guillermo Francella, who plays Arquímedes Puccio, at the Venice Film Festival

It’s 1982 and Argentina is a different place at the end of the Falklands/Malvinas War. Arquímedes Puccio, the film’s protagonist and a former state intelligence worker, turns to a life of crime to supplement the family income. He decides to kidnap wealthy individuals and demand ransoms from their families. But the fact that Puccio’s son Alejandro is a star rugby player complicates matters when Arquímedes kidnaps one of his son’s teammates. Alejandro’s no innocent bystander, however, identifying suitable targets for his father and playing dumb when his teammates bring up their friend’s disappearance. But when the young boy threatens to tell his family who his kidnappers are upon release, Arquímedes Puccio ends up shooting him. Alejandro agrees to keep the murder a secret only after his father convinces him into believing the murder was necessary, because he would have been ruined and the family would have been damned if the deceased had spoken. Alejandro’s willingness to keep his father’s secret further implicates him in his father’s criminal plans.

Peter Lanzani, who plays Alejandro Puccio, at the Venice Film Festival

The Puccios open a sporting goods store with the ransom money, but Arquímedes soon finds himself drawn into yet another kidnapping. The victim is again Alejandro’s friend, and once again the boy is killed. But this time Arquímedes placates his son not with words but with money to keep his mouth shut. But after Alejandro’s younger brother Guillermo confesses to know about the pair’s wrongdoings and promises to not return home from a rugby trip abroad for fear of the repercussions the family stands to face because of the illegal activity, Alejandro has a change of heart and decides to distance himself from future kidnappings. But after the third kidnapping is botched, Arquímedes blames Alejandro, nearly killing him in a fit of rage, at which point the pair’s relationship disintegrates almost completely.

In an effort to make amends with his father, Alejandro seeks out his other brother, Maguila, who lives abroad, convincing him to return to Argentina to aid their family with their illegal activities. However, with democracy returning to Argentina and the end of the military dictatorship which protected Arquímedes, trouble finds the Puccio clan. The final kidnapping in the Puccio story is of a 65 year old woman who Arquímedes and Maguila hide in a newly constructed basement on their property. But the woman falls ill and screams incessantly for the duration of her detention, alerting Alejandro’s two sisters, Silvia and Adriana, of her presence. When Arquímedes calls the woman’s family to demand the ransom, they say they can’t pay it. Soon afterwards he receives a call from his former boss saying that the authorities are searching for the woman and that there is nothing he can do to protect him anymore now that the dictatorship is no longer in power. Arquímedes goes with Maguila to a gas station where they think the ransom will be left, but are ambushed by police, who later raid the Puccio home and discover the captive in the basement.

The stars on the red carpet

The entire Puccio family is arrested and officials attempt to discern who knew what. The mother and two daughters are released, but Alejandro, Arquímedes and Maguila face a trial. The night before they are due to appear in court, Arquímedes has Alejandro brought to his cell and demands that he punches him so that the judge feels pity for him. Alejandro refuses, but Arquímedes taunts him until he beats his father to a pulp in the cell. Arquímedes ultimately emerges as the victor of the conflict, but tragedy strikes as the father and his two sons are on their way to the courtroom the following day, when Alejandro frees himself from the guards and throws himself over the balcony, attempting to commit suicide.

Alejandro survived that first attempt but attempted to take his own life four more times while in prison. He ultimately died of pneumonia in 2008. Arquímedes always denied any wrongdoing, and even upon his release in 2008, he refused to acknowledge his involvement. Disowned by his family, when he died in 2013, no one claimed his body and he was buried in a communal grave. The story of the Puccio clan is not for the feint of heart, and director Pablo Trapero’s 2015 film captures the story in a way that doesn’t make light of these heinous events. All in all, “El Clan” is a masterpiece worth the watch if only for the cautionary tragic tale it tells.

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