White Elephant (15) Heart of Hawick

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The relevance of religion in a secular society has been knocked sideways by every kind of indiscretion, whether it be sexual or extremist.

It’s not good enough to say that God gave man free will and man screwed up.

White Elephant brings the subject back to basics. Poverty. A priest is a worker for the benefit of the community. End of story.

This is Buenos Aires. The slums are dangerous. There are men here that the pigs (police) want to take out permanently. Drug dealers rule. Kids follow their lead. The cycle of despair keeps on turning.

Father Julian (Ricardo Darin) is attempting to build a hospital within the ruin of an abandoned high rise with the help of local politicians and church officials. Naturally bureaucracy takes preference.

Stop there! This isn’t a talky-talky corruption drama, exposing low dealings amongst high-ups. It’s a raw, engrossing, emotionally fierce film that cuts to the heart of what it means to sacrifice personal ambition for a higher cause.

Except this higher cause becomes a battleground. Father Nicolas (Jeremie Renier), a French speaking priest brought in to help Julian, has been damaged by exposure to the real thing when working up the Amazon where the inhabitants of a tribal village were massacred before his eyes.

He is a good man, choked by guilt, whose involvement with a beautiful volunteer (Martina Gusman) seems as natural as it is sensitively portrayed.

If the church has lost its way these slum priests have found another.

The film makes no concessions to the audience which means it takes time to find connections. Once hooked, however, there is no release. White Elephant matters.