Home Video Hovel- Bonsai, by Jack Fleischer
Bonsai is a film I’ve reviewed here before. The last time I saw it, I went on and on about how much it taught me about Chilean culture. Now I must confess that the reason I threw out such irrelevant commentary is because I kept nodding off during the screening. I never fell asleep, and what I wrote was genuine, but I wasn’t able to give it the detailed examination it deserved. Now with the DVD release it seemed like I had an opportunity to give this film its proper due. So was rewatching it penance, or a reward? That’s hard to pin down. Bonsai seems to be constantly distracted – but maybe that’s the point.
The film bounces between two time periods about eight years apart. Both time periods feature Julio (Diego Noguera). In the past he’s a lethargic student, unable to focus on Proust and in love with the quirky Emilia (Nathalia Galgani). In the present he’s a malaise strangled adult struggling to get a job and be a writer. He pretends to work as a transcriber for a famous novelist in order to impress the woman next door, and in the process he fictionalizes the story of his past romance.
Oddly enough, in the process of summing up the plot I can see how this story could have been turned into a bubbly and rosy-cheeked mainstream Hollywood romcom. This movie is not that. In a determined effort to wipe away expectations of a happy ending, the story begins with, “In the end Emillia dies and Julio does not die.”
The film is bittersweet – perhaps more on the bitter side, but the sweet is often very touching and amusingly quirky. This film never really locks in its audience. The story itself is about a young man meandering through his own love life, and the film also wanders down a kind of well kept garden path. What I had described in the pervious review as, “…lack[ing] a certain level of audience engagement,” seems unfair. In reality I think the audience is as engaged in the story as our main character is in his own life.
Watching it again, I noticed just how much attention the director (Cristián Jiménez) gives to these characters. Especially with Julio, the shots linger longer and take great care in showing us how he perceives his own place in the world. He’s lost until the end of the story, and the audience is right there with him.
This recommendation is redundant, (perhaps this review is as well), but I was again struck by how much this film reminded me of Julio Medem’s film Lovers of the Arctic Circle, a film that I deeply love. Although these two films are not creatively linked, (that I can find), they seem to share parts of a soul. In Lovers we’re asked to question things like love, death, and fate. In Bonsai it seems like we’re asked about love, death, and the desire for fate. Perhaps this is a story about how fate fails, but art succeeds? This film is a story, within a story, surrounded by metaphor, and in the end life fails to be what we want, but the story continues.
Was Bonsai better this time around? I think so. It was never that bad to begin with, but this second viewing brought out more of its intangible beauty. This is a moving story that deserves to be seen, discussed, and rewatched.