Bonsái is a Spanish language film that was an official selection of the 55th annual San Francisco International Film Festival.
Bonsái opens with the line, “In the end Emilia dies and Julio does not die.” Julio (Diego Noguera) is a struggling writer that is vaguely in a relationship with his next door neighbor, Blanca (Trinidad Gonzales). He doesn’t want his casual fling to know that he has been let go from a job transcribing the new novel of famed writer Gazmuri (Hugo Medina) so he spends his evenings handwriting a novel to pass off as Gazmuri’s. In his book, Julio tells the story of his first love, Emilia (Natalia Galgani), from his college days, 8 years previous.
As Julio’s relationship with Blanca is based on a lie, so too was his courtship of Emilia. From the beginning, Julio and Emilia lie about reading Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, a multi-volume novel that some scholars believe is not about memory but how art deal with loss and create its own living document. These are lessons that Julio, as a fledgling writer, inadvertently learns as he writes his own story. It creates a coming of age tale, not of adolescence to adulthood, but of novice to artist.
The movie jumps back and forth within an 8 year time frame and Noguera, as the consistent actor in both time periods, is the centerpiece of the film. He gives a quirky, understated performance as Julio, but that perfectly matches the character’s journey. He captures the awkwardness of a late teen involved in his first romantic relationship, the lack of confidence of a learning writer, and the impassive mistakes of a passive lover.
Bonsái is the second feature film by Chilean writer-director Cristián Jiménez. Adapted from a novella by Alejandro Zambra, the movie is rife with literary references that may not interest someone who is not a writer or avid reader. But through the telling of a story within another story the movie is richly filled with many layers and details to create its own vividly nuanced comedic tale.