The “elefante blanco” (white elephant) in Pablo Trapero’s eponymous film is the phantasmagorical structure of what was to be Latin America’s biggest hospital, construction of which was approved in 1937 and started in 1938. In line with Argentina’s sociopolitical upheaval, the project was never completed and is now home to thousands of outcasts who live among rubble, rats, pollution, illness, crime, deadly drug lords’ feuds.
Trapero’s Elefante blanco, focusing on the painstaking work of two shanty-town priests and a social worker, is a trip through urban hell. Contrary to the barrage of political harangue we are subjected to on a daily basis, Elefante blanco lays out the bare facts: a Third World country playing welfare state but in reality struggling to stay afloat. No other aborted social project could make such a visible, powerful impact as the elefante blanco, palpable proof that not everyone is given the same possibilities to attain social mobility and think ahead to a better future.
In such a bleak social landscape, though, there’s always bound to be a group of believers and fighters. In Trapero’s fiction, it’s Catholic priests Julian (Ricardo Darin) and Geronimo (Jeremie Renier), plus social worker Luciana (Martina Gusman). Structured as a classic narrative, Elefante blanco is an emotional journey, starting with two gripping epigrams: a closeup of an MRI scan performed on Father Julian, and Father Geronimo escaping a massacre in the Amazon.
Subtitles:English, Spanish (srt)