Chilean Dominga Sotomayor’s third feature is a beautifully crafted example of the kind of Latin drama that is slow-burn and sensorial, conveying emotion through gestures and looks rather than dialogue or action. Nothing much seems to be happening, but before you know it you’ve been completed sucked in.
Prompted by the writer/director’s own childhood on an ecological community outside Santiago, it offers a pithy, bitter-sweet reminder that idealism doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness and that children’s needs remain the same wherever they are: parental solidity, love, the freedom to explore themselves and the world around them.
Sixteen-year-old Sofía (Demian Hernández) lives with her morose father and younger brother in a still ramshackle commune of artists and musicians on an unappealingly arid mountaintop. The adults debate whether they should start using electricity or idealistically continue without, and worry about who’s stealing their water supply. The kids are left largely to themselves, with little to do than scramble around the forest.
And while the camp excitedly plans for its New Year’s Party, the unhappy Sofía plots to return to her mother, a famous musician still living in the city – but not before first exploring her sexuality.
Sotomayor beguiles with the economy of her storytelling and her painterly, often surprising compositions
There’s a strong relation to Sotomayor’s debut, Thursday Till Sunday, with its focus on a girl trying to cope in the wreck of her parents’ marriage. And again there’s no rush of exposition, with little dialogue or plot, it taking us a while to realise who’s who or what’s what amid this array of families; it’s a particular narrative challenge of Latin, especially Argentine films, which can be exasperating, but also rewards resolve.
In fact Sotomayer reminds one a little of the great Argentine Lucrecia Martel, not least in the way, here, she subtly introduces the tension between the camp and the indigenous people in the area, which offers another crack in the idyll.
It doesn’t satisfy entirely. The adults are frustratingly underdeveloped, and the love triangle between Sofía, the older man she’s hooked on and a moping boy her own age with an unfortunate New Romantic haircut becomes tiresome. There’s far too much wandering around the bush.
Thankfully, the chief focus is on Hernández, a newcomer who positively smoulders with discontent and latent sexuality. And around her, Sotomayor beguiles with the economy of her storytelling and her painterly, often surprising compositions – cows strolling into a home, steam seemingly rising from within the girl’s sculpted head, the inevitable forest fire.
This review first appeared in The Arts Desk