White Elephant: the Christian presence in the violent slums of Argentina in the 1970s

Filed in Arts by on January 17, 2014 1 Comment


Much has been made of Pope Francis’ work in the Argentinian slums before being elected Pontiff.  An interesting point of reference is the 2012 feature film “White Elephant”, a subtitled movie set in the villa miserias (literally ‘villas of misery’), on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

The film depicts the struggles faced by Fr Julian, a Roman Catholic priest, who runs a social project in the heart of the slums alongside fellow priests and social workers, under the shadow of a failed building project called the ‘White Elephant’.

Although a work of fiction, the film (and the protagonists) take inspiration from the real-life figure of Fr Carlos Mujica, the ‘slum priest’, who was violently murdered in 1974.  A controversial figure – Fr Mujica was criticised in some quarters for his Marxist tendencies and liberation theology – he was, nevertheless, a highly influential presence in the Argentinian slums, to the extent that the film makes a case for his canonisation.

If not a point of reference for Pope Francis’ teaching on the poor, the film certainly portrays a destitute, violent, erratic and deeply religious community, countered by moments of beauty, compassion and humanity…faith in action. It’s worth a watch.

This is from the film website:

Father Julian and Father Nicolas are dedicated to helping the poverty-stricken people of the Villa Maria slums in Buenos Aires. But they find themselves in danger when a conflict between local criminals escalates into violence. Julian and Nicolas have no choice but to seek help from the local police. But when the corrupt law enforcers refuse to help, Julian and Nicolas are forced to help the innocent people on their own. Subtitled. Strong drug use, language, graphic injury and sex.

“White Elephant” will be available to download on BBC iPlayer until Monday 20 January 2014.  It can also be rented from Film4oD

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Martin O'Brien

About the Author ()

Martin O'Brien is the founder and Artistic Director of Ten Ten Theatre. Starting his working life as a professional actor, Martin performed in the West End (Blood Brothers) and at the National Theatre (twice) as well as appearing in many TV dramas throughout the 1990’s. He then developed a second career as a writer, winning the BBC Northern Exposure Award for his play “On Eagles Wings” and writing for the BBC One drama “Doctors” and numerous radio plays. He founded Ten Ten Theatre – a professional theatre company with an underlying Christian ethos rooted in the Catholic tradition - with his sister Clare in 2007. Since that time, Ten Ten has developed a wide-ranging programme in drama-based Relationship Education in primary schools, secondary schools and parishes, currently working with over 80,000 children and young people every year. The company has also won awards for its work with young offender institutions and has more recently moved into mainstream theatre productions, starting with the sell-out production of “Kolbe’s Gift” at the off-West End venue, The Leicester Square Theatre, in October 2013. When not working, Martin tries (and sometimes, just sometimes, succeeds) to beat his 12-year-old nephew on Fifa… www.tententheatre.co.uk

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  1. This sounds like a film well worth watching!

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