Fresh off a record-breaking opening, Argentine crime flick "The Clan," based on the true story of a well-to-do family of kidnappers, is looking for glory at the Venice Film Festival.
The movie tells the sordid tale of the Puccio family, which kidnapped a string of wealthy victims in the 1980s and held them captive at their home in an affluent Buenos Aires neighborhood, then killed them after receiving ransom payments.
It broke the box office record for best opening weekend in Argentina when it premiered on August 13, outselling the likes of "Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation."
It went on to sell a million and a half tickets in two weeks, seizing the record for best opening run from last year's Oscar-nominated anthology film "Wild Tales," one of the most successful Argentine movies of all time.
Now it is heading to the world's oldest film festival, which opens Wednesday, where it will compete with 20 other works for the top prize, the Golden Lion.
"I expect 'The Clan' to do well in Venice and meet with the same enthusiasm and emotion from the audience that we've felt here in Argentina," director Pablo Trapero told AFP at the offices of his production company, Matanza Cine.
The film, co-produced by acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar's production house, is Trapero's ninth.
The 43-year-old Argentine has previously screened his work at Cannes and last year chaired the jury for the French festival's "Un Certain Regard" competition, which seeks to recognize new talent and encourage innovative, daring filmmaking.
- Dark past -
"The Clan" takes place against the backdrop of Argentina's transition to democracy at the end of its brutal military dictatorship (1976-1983).
At the time, the country was seeking to chart a path back to normalcy after a blood-stained era in which an estimated 30,000 people were killed or abducted and presumed killed.
Arquimedes Puccio, the patriarch at the center of the film, and his wife, Epifania, seemed like an ordinary upper-middle-class couple -- an accountant and a teacher devoted to their five kids.
Their eldest son, Alejandro, was a local celebrity thanks to his career as a rugby player on the Argentine national team.
But a dark past lurked beneath this veneer of normalcy.
Arquimedes was a former arms trafficker with links to the secret police and far-right death squads that killed government opponents.
In 1982, with the curtain coming down on the regime following its disastrous attempt to seize the Falkland Islands from Britain, the Puccio family kidnapped its first victim, Ricardo Manoukian, a 23-year-old teammate of Alejandro's.
Over the next three years, they would kidnap three other victims, killing all of them but the last, who was freed after a month in captivity when police raided the house in August 1985.
- Life-long denial -
Actor Guillermo Francella plays Arquimedes as a graying father figure whose pale blue eyes morph from kindly affection to chilling amorality.
Epifania, played by Lili Popovich, is his passive accomplice, but also becomes his enforcer, going as far as to reprimand Alejandro when he looks to exit the family "business."
"The film tells the story of this family from the inside and, through it, we discover its criminal life, this horrific kidnapping enterprise, and from there the historical context of the country," said Trapero.
It depicts a father of "unspeakable coldness and cruelty, and this son who lived in submission despite the fact that he had everything he needed to escape," he said.
Arquimedes Puccio was sentenced to life in prison and died at age 83. To his dying day, he denied the crimes he was convicted of.
Alejandro spent more than 20 years in prison, attempting suicide four times. He died in 2008, shortly after his release.