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  • 15
  • Drama
  • 2011




A laid back, ludic literary romance (of sorts) that sets past against present and story against story. Cristian Jimenez (Optical Illusions) directs.


"At the end of this film, Emilia dies and Julio remains alone," insists the voice-over at the beginning of Bonsai. "The rest", we are assured, "is fiction."

In fact, the play of fiction has already begun. Julio (Diego Noguera) - for it is he speaking - may promise a film, but Julio's medium falls entirely within the domain of the written word. Adapted from the poet Alejandro Zambra's debut novella, this is a decidedly literary affair  and a ludic, modernist one at that.

As a student in Santiago, passive, aimless Julio fails to read the two pieces of writing that are destined to shape his own life story: Marcel Proust's seven-volume monument of memory and loss A la recherche du temps perdu, and Macedonio Fernandez's short story Tantalia. Julio starts a relationship with no-nonsense Emilia that is rooted in a mutual lie about having read Proust. But if their relationship begins full of promise, it will eventually fade like the clover plant he gives her for her birthday.

Eight years later, when he fails to get a job typing up the latest novel (handwritten in notes) of established author Gazmuri (Hugo Medina), Julio lies once again to save face with his neighbour and sometime lover Bianca (Trinidad Gonzalez). He then maintains this fiction by passing off his own hastily hand-written novel as Gazmuri's.

Over time the fictive plot that Gazmuri had originally outlined for his novel unexpectedly (but inevitably) intrudes into Julio's real life, leading Julio back to Proust and to a deep melancholy that he can at last appreciate and inhabit as his very own - no matter who originally wrote it.

As Cristian Jimenez's film switches (in alternating chapters, each with their own formal heading) from Julio's past with Emilia to his present with Bianca, the narrative becomes a Moebius strip of parallel tales with, as Julio puts it, "no cause-effect relation, but which somehow have a meaningful link". That link is forged both by other people's writings and by Julio's own unreliable memoir, written in someone else's name and inspired by someone else's (fictive) premise.

The result is a tricksy, if charming, tragic anti-romance (or two), delivering an ending that, though prescribed right from the opening line, is still unexpectedly moving in all its literary resonance. For at heart this is a story about how we find ourselves in stories, becoming the subjects of the books that we read - and the films that we see.

In a nutshell

A paradoxical anti-tragedy that dramatises the impossibility of originality and yet somehow still manages to be a true original, Bonsai is the right kind of precious.

by Anton Bitel

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