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Family traditions never die.

Loyalty. Respect. Love. Kidnapping.

Directed by Pablo Trapero, “The Clan” tells the true story of one such traditional family. It’s a mordant if unwieldy thriller examining how evil not only becomes the norm, but a virtue.

The Puccis thrived during the period of the brutal military dictatorship that reigned over Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Arquímedes (Guillermo Francella), the head of the family, has no qualms about having served a system that “disappeared” thousands of opponents. But when the regime fell, it left the Puccis in a bind. With their fascist cronies out of power, what can they do to stay solvent and hold onto the perks of the good old days?

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Arquímedes decides to continue doing what he is best suited for — ruthlessly kidnapping people — except he’ll do it for personal gain by ransoming his victims. He has a couple of colleagues left from the old days, but now he’ll rely more on his sons to help out.

Tyrannical governments come and go, but family is forever.

Though the new family business makes sense in a reductio ad absurdum way, it takes a toll on the kids. Try eating mom’s famous roast beef or doing your math homework with prisoners screaming from the basement. Arquímedes’s grown-up son Alejandro (Peter Lanzani) in particular gets restive, especially when dad has him set up well-to-do members of his rugby team for abduction.

That conflict, such as it is, never amounts to much, except when Arquímedes manipulates it to his own purposes. Dramatically, the story is inert, even though Trapero shapes it into a circular structure, beginning with a scene near the end and returning there with a short denouement. Initially intriguing, this device serves little purpose but to diminish suspense. More dubiously, Trapero attempts some head-scratching “Godfather”-like montages, in one instance intercutting a murder with athletic sex in the back seat of a car.

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Despite these flaws, and largely because of Francella’s performance — he’s a silver-haired patriarch with a pot belly and the eyes of a raptor — Trapero’s point is well taken. Family values reflect those of society, and vice versa.

★ ★ ½
THE CLAN

Directed by Pablo Trapero. Written by Trapero, Julian Loyola, and Esteban Student. Starring Guillermo Francella, Peter Lanzani. At Coolidge Corner, Kendall Square. 110 minutes. R (violence, language, and a scene of sexuality/nudity). In Spanish, with subtitles.


Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.