DIEGO NOGUERA AND NATHALIA GALGANI IN BONSÁI Lies, literature, loves
We must add to Alicia Scherson (of the lovely Play
) and Pablo Larrain (of the creepy Tony Manero
and Post Morten
) the name of another younger Chilean filmmaker, Cristian Jiménez. He has chosen for this, his second film, Alejandro Zambra's much-admired eponymous novella (and debut). It begins this way: "In the end she dies and he remains alone, although in truth he was alone some years before her death, Emilia's death. Let's say that she is called or was called Emilia and that he is called, was called, and continues to be called Julio. Julio and Emilia. In the end Emilia dies and Julio does not die. The rest is literature:" Bold opening for a movie to begin with a total "spoiler." In fact this film, too, is literature. It concerns a young man who writes a novel about himself and Emilia pretending to his girlfriend at the time -- it's eight years later -- that it's the manuscript of a well know writer that's he's typing. Julio has pretended to Emilia that he's read Proust, whom she says she's read. Perhaps she's lying too. Note that and love-making and live punk rock music and symbolic plants, and you've about got the basics about a somewhat vague young man learning to love and to write.
The film oscillates between Julio's college days studying literature in Valdivia, southern Chile, when he was in love with Emilia (Nathalia Galgani), and eight years later in Santiago, when he's involved, less romantically, with Blanca (Trinidad González). This is when he pretends to be working for the writer, Gazmuri (Hugo Medina), but is really filling up the four blue notebooks himself.
Diego Noguera plays Julio with confident confusion and poetical blankness. He's a little bit insufferable but he's at the age when being stupid is forgivable. Emilia doesn't necessarily take him very seriously, but after their meeting in the library it's not long before they're in bed every night and, after sex, they read aloud to each other a few pages of a book. If that appeals to you, this lighthearted, bittersweet tale is a movie for you to watch. It's distinctly a young man's film, but it may appeal to young women seeking to understand what makes young men tick.
Julio raises his hand in class to show he's read Proust, which he hasn't, then gets it from the library and goes to the beach, where he falls asleep with the book on his stomach. He wakes up sunburned with a white rectangle where Swan's Way
in Spanish was sitting. This defines him and the novella's humorous, slightly sardonic picture of him. The earlier Julio is a student and a reader; the later one is bespectacled, bearded and longer-haired, living marginally, hoping to become a writer, which leads him to take the typing job for Gazmuri, who quickly fires him when he finds someone in his publisher's office who'll do it more cheaply. His sex buddy eight years later is Blanca, who lives in the little apartment across the hall from him. As he has lied to Emilia that he'd read Proust, he lies to Blanca about the fact that Gazmuri has fired him and the writing in the notebooks is his own. Does she suspect? Her comments suggest that she may, and this perhaps is the sweet, indirect way that Blanca and Julio communicate. But she can't be honest with him either and doesn't tell him she's off to Madrid to get a master's degree till the day she's out the door. ("The boxes were suspicious," Julio remarks. "Yes, a suspicious kind of cardboard," she quips.)
What do we suspect? That the flashback sections may be lies too, that they're passages from Julio's fake Gazmuri MS that pretend to be his love affair with Emilia, but are a variation.
There is a Nouvelle Vague playfulness about this tale that makes one wish Jiménez had added more quirky touches like the arrow over Julio's head when he's off in a street scene, so we can spot him on a bike. Witty and sardonic though the story is, one wishes Jiméniz had dared to be a bit more fresh and witty in the cinematic retelling of it; but he may have been deterred by the source novella's near-classic status.
Jiménez's film (and it's shot on film) has a nice, slightly grungy look (especially shots on the roof trimming and arranging his bonsai tree -- part of the somewhat cutesy plant-bonsai theme). I'm afraid I was a little bit underwhelmed. The film's offbeat hipness and New Wave-ishness may have helped get its inclusion in Cannes' Un Certain Regard last year. It was also at Toronto, and other festivals, and Strand has picked it up for US release. In the meantime it was included in the San Francisco International Film Festival April 20, 22 and 24, 2012. It opened theatrically in Miami (at whose festival it won the popular jury prize) May 18, 2012.