Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: James Bond Is Back In First Trailer For 'Spectre' Starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, & More Watch: James Bond Is Back In First Trailer For 'Spectre' Starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, & More Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join Watch: Explore The Loneliness Of Sofia Coppola's Films With This Supercut Watch: Explore The Loneliness Of Sofia Coppola's Films With This Supercut 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' Viggo Mortensen Reveals He Turned Down Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight,' Auditioned For 'Reservoir Dogs' Viggo Mortensen Reveals He Turned Down Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight,' Auditioned For 'Reservoir Dogs' Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To 'Interstellar' Was “Much More Straightforward” Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To 'Interstellar' Was “Much More Straightforward” The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Cannes Review: 'Bonsai' Is A Chilean Slacker-Romance Of Love & Language That's Small, Swift & Smart

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist May 19, 2011 at 11:38AM

Cannes, more so than other film festivals, feels like the 10 days of nutrition offered in the hopeful attempt to make up for the other 355 days of dessert modern movie going offers us. Abandonment, murder, suicide, prostitution -- these are the concerns of all too many films in the competition and sidebars here at Cannes. A film like Christián Jiménez's "Bonsái," in the Un Certain Regard selection -- seemingly slight, seemingly light, small in scope and scene -- is exactly the kind of film that whispers when other films shout and gets overlooked in the hue and cry. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't speak the truth, or that what it's saying isn't heartfelt, articulate and funny. You have to lean into a film like "Bonsái" so you can see how intricate, simple and elegant it is, even at what seems like a smaller scale.
1


Cannes, more so than other film festivals, feels like the 10 days of nutrition offered in the hopeful attempt to make up for the other 355 days of dessert modern movie going offers us. Abandonment, murder, suicide, prostitution -- these are the concerns of all too many films in the competition and sidebars here at Cannes. A film like Christián Jiménez's "Bonsái," in the Un Certain Regard selection -- seemingly slight, seemingly light, small in scope and scene -- is exactly the kind of film that whispers when other films shout and gets overlooked in the hue and cry. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't speak the truth, or that what it's saying isn't heartfelt, articulate and funny. You have to lean into a film like "Bonsái" so you can see how intricate, simple and elegant it is, even at what seems like a smaller scale.

Based on the novel by Chile's Alejandro Zambara, "Bonsái" is the story of Julio (Diego Noguera). We meet Julio as an unsteady, awkward university student; we also jump forward eight years, on a regular basis, to see him as an unsteady, awkward young man. In the film's yesterday, Julio begins a relationship with Emilia (Natalia Galgani) while they're both at school. In the present, Julio has an all-too-casual relationship with neighbor-lover Blanca (Trinidad Gonzáles). As for the future, a narrator tells us what awaits Julio and Emilia at the outset -- but one of Bonsái's many minor miracles is how that foreknowledge quickly becomes less relevant than the smaller moments and details leading up to that known end.


Julio hoped to land a job as a typist for the novelist Gazmuri (Hugo Medina), who writes his novels by hand ("You feel a rhythm between your hand and your elbow …"). He doesn't get the job, but he doesn't want to tell Bianca he didn't -- so he begins handwriting his own version of Gazmuri's novel, which is the story of his young love with Emilia, and then typing from the notebooks he's painstakingly filling and forging. The truth -- which,in "Bonsái," often comes as a lie, or in a lie, or as a reduction of itself -- is that the forgery, which Blanca begins reading, might be the most honest and open conversation Julio's ever had with Blanca, even though it isn't a conversation at all.

"Bonsái" is meticulously framed, and the touches of wit and whimsy in the direction -- visual jokes, trips to the shared vestibule with the timing of a dance number -- are not over-worked and winking at us as they are in, say, "Submarine." These people live in the real world, our world, and the funny stuff does not come at the cost of the real stuff. There's quicksilver intelligence in "Bonsái"s script, like a running joke about pronoun confusion and about how language can fail us. It doesn't just pop up at random but, rather, keeps bringing us back to the film's central ideas about language and communication, about how falsehood is a cornerstone of the human experience.

Some will suggest that Julio's journey is too passive, too controlled, too hesitant to make for a suitable or engaging film. The movie that kept coming to mind structurally was, oddly enough, Judd Apatow's "Funny People." Yes, there's a gulf of difference between a scrappy Chilean indie and a film starring Adam Sandler, but they both have one thing in common -- namely, they end with our protagonist finally doing the thing they've needed to do all along, and that we've needed them to do all along. We have watched Julio work for and earn that moment, so when it happens, it is not like the phony bloat and bright perfection of the cinema. Instead, it is like the small moments and hard-won minor victories of real life that do not come on predetermined act breaks but instead late -- perhaps too late -- in the course of events.

Jiménez is clearly a talent to watch, his cast and crew are excellent, and he can play clever postmodern games and juggle big ideas without ever losing the simple through-line of the story and or dropping the ball in terms of what he's trying to say. Again, in a film festival that offers shame, pain and crimes against human dignity -- and that's just the press conferences, badoomp-boomp -- the bigger and rougher films tend to get the attention. But like "Le Havre," like "The Kid with the Bike," like "Oslo, August 31st," "Bonsái" is a film about real people and real life, and how messy those things can be. Alongside those other films, it succeeds without having the vulgar energy of style or genre or sex or violence or controversy to drive it forward. Like the miniature tree-shaping art it's named for, "Bonsái" reminds us that just because something's small and finely crafted doesn't mean it can't be beautiful enough to evoke big ideas. [B+] -- James Rocchi

This article is related to: Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

E-Mail Updates