Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 18, 2017 7:29 am 
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Playing grownups

Here two leading Chilean directors, Scherson of Play and Jiménez of Bonsái, team up for a small-scale tale based, as was Bonsái, on a story by Alejandro Zambra and adapted by him, and shot almost entirely in Scherson's roomy, pleasantly cluttered apartment, which becomes a key player, since it is the setting for "family life," the life of Bruno (Cristián Carvajal) and Consuelo (Blanca Lewin), a well-off thirty-something couple who live there normally with their little girl, and now for Martín (Jorge Becker), a distant cousin of Bruno's who comes to housesit for several months while they're off in Paris. Martín, of course, is only playing at "family life," but he soon has willing partners in this self-reflective fantasy about pretending to be grownup.

This Martín certainly isn't, nor properly socialized, as is shown when he inappropriately kisses Consuelo on the mouth before she leaves. He's also upset by the recent death of his father, and evidently lacking a profession. But - as skillfully played by Becker, he cuts a good figure, and looks stylish in clothes. The catalyst is Mississippi, the cat, who disappears. Martín, who approaches the house like a leisurely burglar, trying on clothes, dipping into private places, putting up a photo of Consuelo in a key place as his loved one, may have made Mississippi uncomfortable. Then, fighting over warring lost-pet posters, Martín meets Pachi (Gabriela Arancibia), a pretty, volatile single mom with a cute long-haired little boy, who comes around and proposes they "fuck eight times" and then see if they'd like to re-up.

They do fuck, with enthusiasm, and in many places and positions. The strange house turns them both on as a sex venue. But Martín lies to explain the "family" house that he's recently divorced, his wife chose to leave with their daughter: and he must sustain this lie, or all will collapse. Now Martín, Pachi (who does have a sketchy job), and the kid play at "family life" seriously. This little film, which plays much with light irony, eschews outright humor, heightening suspense as we wait for the deception to be found out when Pachi gets curious or Bruno and Consuelo return. The beauty of this situation of the story, as spelled out in the rich detail of Scherson's and Jiménez's direction and their use of Scherson's real home, is that everything in the home and all that happens gain drama and resonance - and the deception and mutually shared fantasy of wholeness and adulthood which must inevitably evaporate. This hasn't quite the whimsical magic of Scherson's earlier Play, but it transcends Jiménez's cute and witty but underwhelming Bonsái.

Family Life/Vida de Familla, 80 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2017, also playing at Rotterdam and Miami. Nominated for top awards at Rotterdam and Sundance, it won the Knight Competition grand jury prize at Miami. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.
SCHEDULE AT SFIFF: April 12, 2017 8:45 p.m. BAMPFA; April 13, 2017 6:00 p.m. Roxie Theater; April 15, 2017 1:15 p.m. Alamo Drafthouse New Mission.

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