By Michael Roddy
BERLIN (Reuters) - A Chilean film showing defrocked priests protected by the Catholic Church and a Guatemalan film about the hard lives of Mayan coffee farmers are making waves at the Berlin film festival.
Chilean director Pablo Larrain made "The Club" after he realized some pedophile priests had collaborated with the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet or were ordinary criminals, and had never paid for their misdeeds.
"The Catholic Church for decades really has been spiriting away those priests, hiding them, shielding them from the public sphere," he told a news conference on Monday to loud applause.
"That's how we came up with this 'club', the idea of a club of lost priests."
The film focuses on four priests living in a fishing village whose cozy lifestyle is shattered by the arrival of a priest trailed by a tramp who proclaims from the street that the cleric had forced him to have sex with him.
The accused priest commits suicide with a gun another house resident gives him to scare away the intruder. This leads to a visit from Father Garcia, a Jesuit interrogator, who wants to know what happened and threatens to close down the retreat.
The film is cleverly plotted, with lots of dark humor, and shows the Church still protects its own.
"The judiciary has not been able to act, it is as drastic as I say," said Alfredo Castro, who plays one of the priests. "I think all of the world wishes that people in this situation be judged on a par with anybody else in civil courts."
"Ixcanul" - "Volcano" in English - shows a Kaqchikel Mayan family living under the shadow of a volcano. The only child Maria (Maria Mercedes Coroy) is set to marry the wealthy Ignacio but loves farm worker Pepe, with whom she plans to elope to the United States.
When Pepe jilts her and leaves her pregnant, the family must deal with the unwanted pregnancy as well as a plague of snakes that makes their farm unusable.
“It is a story of a woman that could happen anywhere, but this one is set in Guatemala, in a very particular Mayan culture," director Jayro Bustamente said.
"And it is a good thing that the story of this culture and its people gets to be known better worldwide," he added.
"Ixcanul" and "The Club" are among 19 films vying for the festival's top Golden Bear honor.
(Editing by Tom Heneghan)