" A white elephant is a possession which its owner cannot dispose of and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is out of proportion to its usefulness."
A point is made in many reviews that the white elephant in this film is the abandoned hospital. A building the main characters in the film want to use to build nice apartments for people of the slums to stay in. However I think you can take it broader and state that the title of this film is referring to the work of priests, social workers and everybody else who wants to help. These people simply want to do good but are obstructed by so many things that it is no wonder that they struggle to keep afloat. Basically this film is showing us this struggle. But in such a manner that it put me off instead of evoking sympathy. One example is character Nicolás (played by Jeremie Renier). He has gone to quite an ordeal doing God's work. His friend father Julián (played by Ricardo Darín) picks up and takes him back to Argentina so that Nicolás can work through his trauma but at the same time can help him out with his project and taking over his duties. It is clear that Nicolás is very much troubled but does seem to get on top of it. Only not by doing good. He has no trouble giving into temptation and does not show any regret or remorse. While I have my own view on celibacy and priesthood I still find it a little hard to accept that someone who has chosen this profession to disregard the rules so easily. Now don't get me wrong. I don't mind bending rules as long as it is meant for good. However that does not mean you can act like you are beyond reproach. There is this kid called Monito. And Nicolás visits him and sees he is doing well (after he fell victim to drug abuse and everything that comes with it). In the conversation the priest confesses that he is no saint and has had sex while being a priest. Prior to this the kid was convinced that he was without sin and he had respect for him. Don't you think the kid lost an example and that respect since the priest should show how it should and can be done? I had zero interest in this priest getting it on with Luciana (Martina Gusman). For me it was completely boring.
Then there is father Julian who is dealing with his own issues. Instead of being honest he also chose to keep his deteriorating health a secret. Why? What is the point? Just tell people already so that they know what they are in for and so that they can spend the remaining time with you wisely. Unfortunately for the fans Ricardo has a relative small role. Pivotal for sure. But he does not appear on the screen that much. I know that most people decided to watch this film because of him and it could feel like you have been duped a little.
Now there are some issues tackled that do have an effect on you especially if you are from a country in the first world like me. How is it possible these slums exist? Why don't these governments do something about it? Why don't they care? Sadly these issues don't get addressed in the way they should. How can it be if you focus on a priest having sex and being in a romantic relationship? It completely detracts from the points you should be making.
Overall this film just falls a little short of confronting the world with what is real. I would say don't bother.