Cornerhouse Digital Reporter Catherine Harte reviews Bonsái
Based on the novel by Chilean author Alejandro Zambra, Bonsái is a film about the love, lies and literary aspirations of a young writer Julio (Diego Noguera). This is the second feature by Chilean director Cristián Jiménez and it’s a careful and beautifully realised version of the book. The story begins with a narrated spoiler, telling us that Julio’s love Emilia (Natalia Galgani) will die at the end of the film. Following this dramatic opening, the film ambles through the banality of life and the power of memory and sentiment. The story moves from present day, where Julio works as a struggling writer, to his life 8 years before, when he met his first love Emilia.
The first scenes follow Julio as he begins university and a central theme of pretence comes to play. He awkwardly lies about having read Proust, but the proof of his lack of interest is imprinted on his chest when he falls asleep in the sun, leaving a Proust-shaped tan mark on his body. The connection between Emilia and Julio is fuelled by literature. This phase of Julio’s life is about passion and hope. The chapters of Julio’s first love play out like a reel of tender and often-summoned memories. And as with all great loves, they are remembered through rose tinted glasses and the cinematography reflects this. The romanticised and quite close framing of his time with Emilia contrasts with the more distant shots 8 years later.
Rife with symbolism, what the film lacks in a gripping plot it makes up for with metaphors. Ironically although Jiménez ridicules pretentious intellectuals he echoes his knowledge of Proust through similar themes. Memory, loss and experience are central to the both Proust and Bonsai. Proust believed that art could preserve what was lost, and Julio’s writing kept Emilia alive.
In true art house style this movie is as slow and painstaking as writing itself, but rather than rushing to a sensational finish line it invites you to experience all the emotional pit stops on the way. The Bonsai is shaped with patience and care, as is writing, love and watching this film.
Bonsái screens Sun 18 Mar at 20:20. Book your tickets here.