There's a distinctly Latin American charm to Cristián Jiménez's second feature after 2009's Optical Illusions. Bonsái adapts an Alejandro Zambra novel that follows the relationship between two literature students in Chile over the course of years. Described as an "homage to lies, fiction and artifice," Jiménez clearly had fun developing all of these elements in a film that grew out of the Cannes Film Festival's Cinéfondation residence last year. This year, the film returns to compete in Un Certain Regard. Spanish-speaking neighborhoods will definitely be a logical target audience for this occasionally fetching trifle.
It has its moments, although the charmless main character Julio (played by Diego Noguera) begins to get on your nerves, as he seems incapable of extricating himself from difficult situations.
Based on a book that became a best seller in its native Chile, Bonsái tells two stories. One deals with the collegiate romance of Julio and Emilia (Natalia Galgani). In the second story, Emilia time-shifts eight years forward, to a point when Julio has moved on to become an editor and assistant to a veteran novelist (Hugo Medina). When Julio is told his rates are too high and dismissed, he picks up the threads of the novel and starts to write it himself. At the same time, he buys and cultivates a bonsai tree whose stunted growth reminds him of his own predicaments and becomes a pertinent symbol.
The soundtrack is suitably eclectic and features a bit of everything, from Bach Cello Suites to lively Chilean rock. Its student-led background should help campus-appeal. Although not firing on all cylinders, it has enough to keep the interest alive while the intermittent charm (main character excluded) makes up for a lot of its deficiencies.
Cast: Diego Noguera, Natalia Galgani, Gabriela Aranciba, Trinidad González, Hugo Medina
Director/Screenwriter: Cristián Jiménez
Producers: Bruno Bettati, Julie Gayet, Nadia Turincev
Genre: Dramedy; Spanish-language, subtitled
Running time: 92 min.
Release date: Unset