Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Thursday Till Sunday (2012) directed by Dominga Sotomayor Castillo

Remember sitting in the back seat of a car on a long, dreamy childhood holiday?  You watch the scenery change bit by bit, the shadow of the car playing across the fields and idly wonder about what's to come, good or bad.  Watching Thursday Till Sunday is a near exact replication of this feeling.  This film, the debut of Chilean writer and director Dominga Sotomayor Castillo, places us in the back seat of a long road trip, we see the world through the eyes of the young Lucia (Santí Ahumada) as she tries to comprehend her parent's   (Paola Giannini and Francisco Pérez-Bannen) deteriorating relationship.

Very quickly we pick up that all is not well.  Lucia's parents are cordial towards each other, but tension simmers just below the surface.  In snatches of overheard dialogue we understand that the father may be about to move out of the house, and that the mother may be close to rekindling a relationship with a friend.  Frustratingly for her and us, this adult world is out of reach for Lucia; who stands precisely on the cusp of childhood and adolescence.  

Lucia (Santí Ahumada)
Thursday Till Sunday is consciously minimalist; to simulate the slight frustration of sitting, powerless in the back seat of a car the pace is dictated to us.  While I can appreciate the reasons; Sotomayor's deliberate pace becomes a bit frustrating - it takes a while to work out what kind of film this is, and before this you're waiting in vain for the plot to kick in.  It was about 30 minutes into the film before I realised that this melancholic, slow burning misery was the plot.  

Having said that, considering that not a great deal happens in this film, Sotomayor constructs an efficiently portentous atmosphere.  Things seem imperceptibly wrong: the family road trip  is somehow doomed, but we can't quite put our finger on why.  Shots show huge articulated lorries apparently speeding directly towards the family car, before swooshing past, rattling the car and camera.  In a brief, dialogue-free scene at a petrol station we wonder, along with Lucia, whether her family has abandoned her and whether someone may be trying to abduct her.  These subliminal fears manifest in Lucia's nightmares, she describes being forced to choose between being burned or being shot and wanting neither.

Lucia and her brother Manuel (Emiliano Freifeld) riding on the roof-rack.
My favourite sequence for effortlessly creating tension from thin air consists of the family taking a break next to a river.  The father floats down the river face down, wearing a wetsuit and snorkel; the effect being that he looks eerily corpse-like.  We then cut to a carefully composed shot showing Lucia and her mother in the foreground and her father changing out of his wetsuit in the middle ground.  It's a sustained long-shot, the very fact that nothing much is happening gently ratchets up the tension.  Eventually, in the background, at top right of the frame, a dirt-bike rider appears.  Sotomayor allows us enough space for us to imagine all the sinister possibilities that his arrival could signify.  

I've seen some pretty great child performances lately, and Santí Ahuma's Lucia ranks neatly alongside them.  She's never anything less than naturalistic in front of the camera,  intelligently and heartbreakingly piecing together the disintegration of her parent's relationship.  She's believably childish in scenes where she petulantly sulks that her younger brother has been allowed to learn to drive before her and when she's awed by the coolness of the older female hitch-hikers the family picks up.  Conversely, she displays a mature, reserved outlook when she silently witnesses her mother in tender conversation with another man, or when her and her brother have been allowed to ride on the roof-rack - she stares down through the windshield, watching her parents arguing, unable to hear what they're saying but scared by their angry expressions.  I saw slight echoes of Ana Torrent's famous performance in Carlos Saura's Cria Cuervos, both are fans of the singer Jeanette and both characters are trying to decipher a complex emotional battleground from an outsider's perspective, a tactic that sheds new light on the mundane.

But for all that is excellent about Thursday Till Sunday, at times it frequently strays into being slightly boring.  This is a film you have to concentrate on; if you're not emotionally engaged then it simply won't work.  This is where the stately pace of the film becomes a liability, I found myself having to work to care about what was happening.  I think if you find yourself (as I did) trying to work out the artistic intentions behind shot composition without any consideration of how it informs the themes or character development then the film has become slightly antiseptic: an excellent demonstration of the director's visual skills but with little emotional attachment.

The increasing sense of detachment I felt was a bit of a pity; this is a film packed with beautifully observed moments, my favourites being Lucia's attempts to dry her hands in a bathroom and the curiosity with which she watches her father steal avocados from an orchard.  But by the final scenes, which take place in a blasted, desert landscape - what should be the hellish climax of the emotional arc - I was entirely disengaged, merely able to appreciate the precision with which the film is constructed. It's a beautiful film with subtly observed performances, but it emulates the tedium and boredom of a long journey perhaps too well.


Thursday Till Sunday is being screened at the Institut Francais.  Tickets available here.

The screenings are as follows:

6th April: 4.15pm
8th April: 6.15pm
9th April: 8.30pm
10th April: 6.30pm
11th April: 6.15pm

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