- INTRODUCTION: FEAR AND PERPLEXITY
Pablo Trapero’s film The Clan (El Clan, 2015) — previously he had directed Leonera (2008), Carancho (2010), White Elephant (2012) — is an extraordinary cinematic piece. We should also qualify as equally extraordinary Guillermo Francella’s acting performances in the role of Arquímedes Puccio — he is a famous comedy actor, therefore, his name is usually associated to humour! Trapero said that, by inviting Francella, the actor had accepted the audience’s loathing, something quite difficult to any actor. Peter Lanzani plays the introspective and complex Alejandro Puccio, and Lili Popovich is Puccio’s wife: Epifanía Puccio. El Clan was one of the most infamous Argentinian gang, the Puccio gang.
Direction, soundtrack, and the acting performances seen in The Clan help portray a true story from the 1980’s in such an acute and accurate fashion that lead us to a perplexity state when we leave the theatre. It’s an experience so realistically intense that we fear that story — the bloody Argentinian regime and its torturers — which made possible the emergence of the gang might happen again. At the end of the film the viewer has been led to feel the way the director would want us to feel, for, in his own words, he would drive us to experiment the sensation of having just met somebody real, not only a film character. Well, he managed to achieve that. Arquímedes (Francella), Alejandro (Lanzani), and Epifanía (Popovich) started to inhabit my mind, demanding my understanding of their deeds, moves, and motives.
The film was produced by the brothers Agustin and Pedro Almodóvar (Producer “El deseo”), and it was an amazing box office success, with more than two million viewers only in Argentina, becoming the country’s second greatest box office success — the first place was Damián Szifron’s Wild Tales. The movie pricks on the Argentinian’s recent wounds from the dictatorial period — but it is important to highlight: this people do praise their cinema! The Clan was pre-listed to be nominate to the Academy Awards, competing with the Brazilian film The Second Mother (directed by Anna Muylaert); the film has also been awarded in the Venice Film Festival, and won the Silver Lion.
The film direction of The Clan is superb. The film has long takes that doesn’t follow a set chronology, radical cuts, which refer the viewer to intense and self-contradictory affective games — the abrupt arrival of police officers at the Puccio’s house, when they are finally arrested, a rugby match, championship celebrations, Los Pumas’ invariable victory, an passionate lovemaking performed by Alejandro and his girlfriend. In this contradictory, paradoxical, and insane shot, we let ourselves be driven by the film’s hallucinatory rhythm, because, at this point, we cannot control anything, anymore.
Puccio, the patriarch, seems to be quite an ordinary man: the family has a rotisserie shop and he sweeps the sidewalk every day; Mamma Puccio is a French teacher (in the actual story, she was an accounting teacher); the boys play rugby, the girls study. Everyone prays before meals. Usual, banal middle class routine; everybody apparently loving to one another.
During the dictatorship, however, Daddy Puccio had been a member of the Argentinian Anti-Communist Alliance and had taken part in the Intelligence Battalion 601 — an Argentinian army intelligence special unit: a unit that had active participation in the “Dirty War” and in the Condor Operation. Nonetheless, soon after that, in the transition to democracy, and soon before the popular Alfonsín rise to power, Daddy Puccio comes back to the political scene, taking advantage of old friendships developed throughout the previous regime; as well as using his two eldest sons, who help him kidnap, torture, and murder wealthy children of the Argentinian high middle class, despite the fact that they collect millions in ransoms to set the hostages free. The victims were Ricardo Manoukian, Eduardo Aulet, and Emilio Naum. Daddy Puccio had belonged — and still belongs, in the 1980’s, when the film is enacted — to the burocratic apparel of the State Security, subordinated to the Comodoro that, in the new political stage, continues to protect and conceal the Puccio’s criminal actions for a while. Such criminal actions brought considerable financial gains to the Puccio family, but that money has never been located. Of course, everything was perpetrated in the name of a non-existent terrorist organization.
However, why does Daddy Puccio get so nasty in his cruel criminal performances? He demands his hostages to write emotional messages, under his guidance, to their relatives, reassuring their well-being and telling them how much they love their parents. Daddy Puccio is the one who dictates the messages. Why does he do so? Just for the money? During the “dirty war”, Puccio was somebody, very important and fundamental to the system, now, however, in the transition from the dictatorship to the democracy, he wasn’t that important any longer, he had been put aside. In the ‘new” Argentina, the military individuals didn’t have more prestige, and the international capital together with the impending crisis favoured only few family. Daddy Puccio is angry and jealous, and operating by dislocation, he seeks compensation and revenge through crime. On the fateful 23 of August of 1985, the Puccio clan comes to an end — everyone was arrested, and Nélida Bollini Prado, who had been kept in captivity for a long time, was set free.
The Puccio family falls apart. Arquímedes Puccio, as we have seen, had turned Alejandro, the elder son, and Daniel (Magilla), his accomplices. Epifanía, Puccio’s wife, and mother of five children, is the clan’s cook: she offers rice with chicken to the family members and to those who live in the attic-prison. Being a secondary character in the film, Epifanía is, nonetheless, a key piece in this dire plot, for it was she who allowed her husband to take the hostages the family house, and bear impassibly their screams during the torture sessions. Despite all of it, Epifanía was arrested for only two years in Ezelda and liberated due to lack of proofs. After leaving the jail, she simply disentangled herself from the case, and resumed her regular life. She lived for a long time in San Telmo, around Buenos Aires, and moved out when the film was announced.
Here and there, appear some books that draw the reader’s attention because of their titles: Dangerous mind: a psychopath lives in the neighbourhood, by the psychiatrist Ana Beatriz B. Souza , Without conscience, by Robert Hare , and many others. These works are academic researches and books that try to warn the readers on the existence of dangerous characters, perverse psychopath characters, and sociopaths. This literature tells us that the psychopath is not — it’s extremely rare to be, actually — a serial killer, a monster with a murder’s face; conversely, the psychopath may be in your bed, very close to you.
Definitely, the film directed by Pablo Trapero has as a narrative decoy not the police side, but the family side, mainly due to the relation between the father (Arquímedes) and the eldest son (Alejandro). Trapero tells us a true story and warns: take care, your daddy or you mamma might be a psychopath!
In this sense, the film is dreadful, because it knits together, with delicacy, the bonds between psycho parents: Arquímedes and Epifanía, and their five children — three boys transitioning from adolescence to adulthood, and two girls. And, that’s what interests us in this post discussion: as they are bonds between perverse psychopath characters, and their victims — because, although they are all accomplices in murders and private imprisonments, the children are also victims of their own parents.
The mother is the one who ensures the invisibility of what is going on the house — the hostages are kept imprisoned in the attic, and their screams are audible, but Mamma Puccio just says: “It’s nothing, nothing special; daddy does that thinking of us, of the family”. Epifanía, whose motherly role would be to protect her children, turn them over, unhesitatingly, to the father’s despotic and psychotic whims. This armoured woman turns around her own orbit: the housewife, the children’s upbringing, the family’s catholic values — as said earlier on, everybody prays before the every meal and, with such rituals, Epifanía dissociate herself, and dissociate everyone from the criminal context: they witness everything, and they deny what they’re witnessing. Epifanía engages herself in producing invisibilities, acting as a piece of a perverse game: reality is glimpsed and simultaneously disallowed.
It’s uncanny to notice, in the film, how the family seems to function quite lovingly, at the same time that an unheard-of violence is taking place. It’s typically psychopathic, for, according to Robert Hare, owing to their mental and neurological processes, psychopaths are able to sustain paradoxes such as: “I spanked you, almost to your death, honey, but I love you” or “after swearing to a judge that he isn’t violent, a psychopath says that he had killed two people the previous week” (HARE, 2013, p.134), or, as Epifanía said: “be quiet, nothing is happening, your daddy only do that for the family good”, then she fondly kissed her son, who is seduced and captive of these so loving parents, parents able to torture and kill guiltlessly, with no regrets. When they were caught, Arquímedes claimed innocence and didn’t assume his crimes, which led his children — especially Alejandro and Daniel (Magilla) — to be sentenced to life imprisonment.
- LETHAL BONDS BETWEEN PERVERSE-PSYCHOPATHS AND THEIR VICTIMS.
Alejandro Puccio, the big rugby star, exerted his violence and guilt in the game — for, it is a fact that he felt guilty, at least according to Trapero’s film. Being the eldest child, he complied with his parents’ insanities, and he had his life stolen, trying, many times and not by chance, to commit suicide. Alejandro seems to be the only one who actively woke up, though partially, from the tragedy experimented, but too late. In prison, he studied psychology, another detail that sets him apart, since he very likely was in search of some kind of meaning to the lived tragedy, and he tried to make sense of it.
How was the game among father, mother, and Alejandro? What sort of bond was there among them? I’m going to lay emphasis on Alejandro because he took active part in the kidnappings as well as in the ‘assistance’ of the hostages, and, then, at least he was a passive accomplice. Alejandro’s character makes the audience feels for him, since he is a divided human being, torn apart by the love for his family and for his wife, and by the fear of his father, who keeps him as a psychological hostage, threatening him, and blackmailing in different manners.
Alejandro also resists, somehow; nonetheless, he definitely doesn’t go away: never leaves daddy and mom. Why doesn’t he? Daniel (Magilla), the second brother, a bullying rugby player, fled to Australia, and only returned when Alejandro, charged by his mother, went there to bring Daniel back in order for him to ”assist his father” , who felt insecure to perpetrate his crimes without his sons. The third brother, the youngest Guillermo, another rugby player, used the excuse of an international match to escape and simply disappeared. Guillermo was quiet, and, being always on the lookout, he got tired of witnessing what occurred in the attic; when escaping, at the airport, he asks Alejandro to run away with him. Guillermo never show up again, never send any news for his family, and he wasn’t prosecuted as the other members of the clan.
Why didn’t Alejandro leave? What kind of tie did he keep with his parents so that he was prevented from leaving? Alejandro felt guilty, he wanted to get married with a Swedish girl he had met and he lived a strong ambivalent relation with his father: he feared his father, but he loved him, and he hated him, so many conflicting emotions going on simultaneously, and intensely. Already in prison, Alejandro almost killed his father by punching him unmercifully. Even before he was prosecuted, he tried to kill himself by jumping from the fifth floor in the Palácio de los Tribunales. He didn’t achieve his goal then, and tries to commit suicide in many other different occasions. It’s right to say that Alejandro feels captive to his own father; however, only too late he is able to understand who his father really was.
According to Christian Dunker, in his excellent article on perversion, which was published in Cult magazine, titled “Perversion in our everyday life”, one of the three biggest psychoanalytical psychopathology structures is the perversion, and the other two are: neurosis and psychosis. They are specific types of subjectivities, desire, and fantasy. The strongest form of perversion takes place in the confrontation and defiance to the law. The perverse individual may “take a shortcut”, choose for him/her “an alternative road”, deviate from the socially shared laws and principles. He departs from the others, from the crowd, and becomes an outlaw, out the socially conventionalized norms, and creates other laws for himself/herself, laws which, henceforth, will be under his/her control. Curiously, this denial of the “norm” is going to work as an reassurance of his/her own strength.
Still, according to Dunker, the perverse-psychopathic characters, in order to keep the taken shortcut, make use of three defences, something that is present in all the members of The Clan: they dissociate, they invert, they dislocate. The Puccio clan, surely, is a great example of the perverse structure: Arquímedes took a shortcut, chose for him another road, and, the more the denied the “norm” the more he reassured his force.
The psychopathy belongs to the perverse structure. Moreover, those who belong to such structure — paedophiles, perverts, psychopaths — impose on their victims a script engendered by themselves. By not seeing the other as another person, that is, without alterity, the psychopathic perversion unveils itself in the way each one of us place ourselves in the world, and locate the other, before what we do.
Starting from this game, this interaction, we can, in deed, recognize somebody who belongs to such pathological and dangerous family. The psychiatric bibliography on psychopathy insists on the psychopath’s distinctive features as being lack of emotions, absence of guilt, of shame, of repentance, and of reparation and consideration for the other. Psychopaths not only engage in evil doing, they revel in hurting people. These features, however, do not reach and do not bring out the bonds the perverse-psychopath character establishes with the victims. That bibliography also does not reach what the psychopath’s victim feels, and how they feel it.
The psychoanalytic bibliography debates the lethal bond between the perverse-psychotic character and his/her victim. Christian Dunker, in the above-mentioned article, wrote: in order to define perversion, we have to solve the so-called ethical paradox of the act: “It’s not enough to know if it’s lawful or unlawful, but it’s essential to know what kind of experience it produces on the one who carries it about, and the kind of position the perpetrator assigns to the other. The perverse-psychopath maxim: “the other wishes, but according to my law”. These people live not only another sort of law, engendered and applied by themselves, as they forces the other to live and feel pleasure according to such law. They assign a special place for themselves, a sort of exceptionality before the Law, and they make use of lying, of denial, of impulsiveness, of aggression; they do not worry about their own safety precisely because they are special, and they do not participate in the law shared by everyone else, therefore, they do not feel guilty or remorse.
Arquímedes Puccio is also a burocratic, whose ruled and methodical demeanour, helps him keep the anonymity, a behaviour that works as a fine alibi for his psychopath perversion that is exerted on his external victims. But, not only on them: Alejandro could and should wish, according to the perversion maxim, in accordance to Arquimedes’s predetermined law. Not by chance, Puccio-dad assures that he built, gradually, since Alejandro was a child, every move in his life, including the rugby, next to the children of well-to-do local families. Therefore, Alejandro’s father wrote his life script. During a dinner, Guillermo defends Magilla’s disappearance because he would be “seeking his way” and daddy Puccio gets very angry, and, startled, asks: where would have Guillermo got such idea from?! To seek one’s own way, reassures daddy Puccio, is simply ingratitude! To let go the script written by a perverse character is not the way, but an insidious misguidance: synonym of unthankfulness and guilt, exhibited by the son who engages in evading the family. Daddy Puccio had already chosen every children’s road. Nobody there should have his/her own life, nor a way to seek out! Alejandro’s imprisonment was set up was all-encompassing because he was invited only to live the script his father had previously engendered. In jail, soon before his trial, Arquímedes mocks and depreciates Alejandro — after all, if he, Alejandro, was a big rugby star, he owed that to his father; without his father’s script, Alejandro was nothing!
And there we have another key to psychopathy: the conquest, the compliments when the victims accepts to wish from the law set up by the other. When Alejandro helped his father to kidnap his wealthy rugby fellows, he received money and praise for his compliance, nonetheless, this parental reward was quite often accompanied by intense debasement, threats, beatings — once, Alejandro was almost strangled by his father when he refused to engage in a new kidnapping, that is, when he turned down his father’s script. The psychopath’s victim gives in to the narrative imposed by the other, becomes a wandering ghost  — without any strength to plan his own life, submitting, thus, to the other’s law, and wishes.
A perverse-psychopath parent, as well shown in Trapero’s film, also make use of another psychological mechanism: introjective extraction. This concept was developed by Christopher Bollas in one of his most important works titled The Shadow of the Object (BOLLAS, 1987). Introjective extraction is a procedure through which someone invades someone else’s mind and captures certain elements of his/her mental, affective, and emotional life — one steals mental contents, thoughts, for example, or certain emotional sequence, or mental structures, for example, the superego, and worst of all, sometimes ones manage to steal someone’s self, someone’s idiom, someone’s inherited destiny (BOLLAS, 1989). The self is not a unit, but a set of selves, and the parents may, indeed, steal what is most valuable in their children: parts of their selves. Bollas writes: “the loss of part of the self means not only the loss of content, function, and process, but it also means the loss of the very sense of self. Such sort of loss constitutes the deconstruction of a history; the loss of a personal history is a catastrophe, and the person may never get over it…” (BOLLAS, 1987, p.166). It is an irretrievable loss. Alejandro, faithful to his father’s narrative, was subject of an introjective extraction, having parts of his self stolen; or else, the most proper, genuine, and idiomatic parts of his self was stolen by his parents.
As long as the Puccio’s venture went on, Alejandro felt the continuous losses of himself, and injustice had been perpetrated agains him, an injustice whose name he didn’t know; then, the unconscious vengeance demanded its rights and, according to Bollas, in cases such as these, the law of retaliation takes charge — form then on, it’s an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Because it is an unconscious act, the law of retaliation intends to recover the lost part of the self by performing a violent intrusion, trying to recover, in this fashion, the stolen part of the self. By stealing and kidnapping, and bringing his rugby fellows to the attic in his own house — a valuable metaphor for the introjective extraction — Alejandro, with his violent actions, mirrored the violent experience his father had subjected him to. Magilla, one day, escaped from home, and, later on, when he was sentenced to life imprisonment, he found a way to escape from prison. Guillermo, as said before, just disappeared, leaving neither trace nor news. Escaping, obviously, is never a synonym to heal! Alejandro couldn’t do even that, he couldn’t flee because he was captive and dispossessed of his own story, and of his own destiny, and because he was unable to recover a vital part of his self, he could only wish the physical death when the clan’s adventures were over.
The only thing that can save these victims is the recognition and the understanding of the lethal bond. Moreover, in Alejandro’s case, it is also necessary to have a grasping of the introjective extraction, which he suffered, when vital parts of his self, his idiom, and his destiny were stolen. A good psychoanalysis could help him. He experimented a deep psychological laceration with his violent arrest, at the moment, he realized he wouldn’t be able to marry his beloved partner. All of that drove him to the perception, to a certain extent, of his personal tragedy, of his life, which had been stolen exactly by those who were expected to protect it. Once in jail, as we already saw, he studied psychology, what shows his interest in understanding the ways that led to his tragedy. Alejandro was released on parole in 2007, and died soon afterwards, victim of convulsions that used to strike him since his first attempt to commit suicide in 1986. Nobody went to this funeral.
- INTENSE AND MULTIPLE PROCESSES OF DENIAL: THE BARTLEBY SYNDROME.
The Bartleby syndrome is on a hype in the current shadowy days we live. “I would prefer not to”, phrase insistently repeated by Bartleby, the scrivener, a character created in the end of the nineteenth century by Herman Melville , seems to gain an acute contemporaneity almost epidemic in today’s world.
In a nihilist, disenchanted civilization, multiple and intense processes of denial gain increasing strength every day. Even though Alejandro, here and there, seems to catch a glimpse of his own tragedy, and also identifies the author of this tragedy — Daddy Puccio — he, Alejandro, also denied, as the other members of the family did, to be part of the clan, thus denying his responsibility in the criminal acts which led him to life imprisonment. So intense was the force of his denial that neither his rugby fellows nor his fiancée believed, at first, in his culpability. As Alejandro, Magilla also “preferred not to”. He escaped from prison and, according to the Argentinian press; he lives in Brazil — connected to a veteran rugby team.
It’s well-known that perverse psychopaths can even trick judges who try them; daddy Puccio took advantage of the defence of inversion and played the victim — he would have been obliged to kidnap and kill, coerced by bad guys! He didn’t convince and was sentenced to life imprisonment, however, in a behaviour similar to Bartleby’s, he resorted to the negative strategy “would prefer not to” — he acknowledged his crimes, and maintained that he was a patriot and a political prisoner. Under parole release, he started to work as a lawyer and lived in a boarding house until his death at the age of 83. Nobody attended his funeral.
Mother and daughter, and Alejandro’s fiancée also followed Bartleby and took advantage of the denialism — by means of the “would prefer not to” — all of them denied any knowledge of what was going on inside the peaceful-violent Puccio’s place.
We’re, then, led to agree with Christian Dunker on the idea that today the perversion is silence and generalized — and we could add — the processes of denial which mimic Bartleby — “would prefer not to” — are so intense and multiple if we look, for instance, at the current political national scenario. Due to these reasons, I left the theatre with a sense of puzzlement and fear because it is nowadays noticeable, both in Brazil and in other places in Latin America, an acceleration in the development of a threatening situation similar to one that made possible the aberration of the Puccio clan.
BOLLAS. C. “Extractive introjection”. In. The Shadow of the object — Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known. New York. Columbia University, 1987.
BOLLAS. C. Forces of Destiny – psychoanalysis and human idiom. Free Association Books, 1989. In this book, the true self, the idiom of the character is called destiny.
HARE. Robert. Without Conscience — The disturbing world of the psychopaths who live among us. Porto Alegre. Artmed, 2013.
MELVILLE. Herman. Bartleby, the scrivener. Ed. Autêntica, 2015.
SILVA. Ana Beatriz B. Dangerous Minds — A psychopath lives close by. S. P. Ed. Fontanar, 2008.
 SILVA. Ana Beatriz B. Dangerous Minds — A psychopath lives close by. S. P. Ed. Fontanar, 2008.
 HARE. Robert. Without Conscience — The disturbing world of the psychopaths who live among us. Porto Alegre. Artmed, 2013.
 DUNKER. Christian I. L. “Our everyday perversion”. In: Cult – 20/03/2010, number 144
 BÁRÁNY. Júlia. “Living with danger”. In: Psique. Year IX, number 117.
 MELVILLE. Herman. Bartleby, the scrivener. Ed. Autêntica, 2015.
Visit the website for Christopher Bollas: http://christopherbollas.com.