Review of Bonsái

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A young writer recounts a romance he once had in hopes of attracting his new love interest.
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Movie Review: "Bonsai"

--Rating: No Rating
Length: 95 minutes
Release Date: May 11, 2012
Directed by: Cristian Jimenez
Genre: Drama

Once in a while, a film comes along that is unlike anything else in theaters at the time. "Bonsai" is such a film. The movie was a surprise hit at Cannes and the Toronto Film Festival for good reason. It is smart, funny, real and dramatic.

The film tells the story of Julio, an average college student who is in love with Emilia. From the onset, the audience knows she is going to die, but that doesn't ruin the film. The focus quickly becomes the relationship, and the moments between them are sweet, honest and lovely. The film portrays their romance in a truthful way. All of the clumsiness of first love and the awkwardness of youth are front and center here.

The movie takes a leap forward in time. It is eight years later, and Julio is in a casual relationship with Blanca, an attractive translator who lives next door. It is starkly different from the loving, passionate connection once shared with Emilia. It seems as though Julio and Blanca barely know each other at all. It becomes clear that he is a broken man who cannot forget his true love.

Julio is an aspiring writer who brags about his new job working for a famous author named Gazmuri. The job falls through, but he does not tell Blanca the truth. Instead, he pens the novel himself and passes it off as belonging to the master. His novel tells the tale of himself and his lost love. It is through this book that the audience and Blanca are taken through their romance. The film goes back and forth from college to the present day. Eventually, even Julio realizes that he is damaged and heartbroken. As therapy, he decides to care for a bonsai tree, which is where the film gets its title.

Diego Noguera is perfectly cast as Julio. He plays the role with all the awkwardness of a nerdy teenager but is still charming and endearing. Noguera makes the character of Julio come to life. The performance is so honest that Julio could easily be a neighbor, friend or college roommate. His facial expressions, mannerisms and laidback delivery style draw the audience in. Moment after moment, Julio's emotions can be felt, and that is what makes the film so relatable.

Natalia Galgani is just as effective in her role as Emilia. The chemistry between the two is so real; it's easy to forget this is a film that has two actors. She is the perfect complement to his gangly persona. Galgani is pretty but not so pretty that she seems unreal. She brings lightness to the character and plays Emilia with humor and genuine likeability. It is so easy to see why Julio never gets over her, and their story of first love is truly touching.

Blanca is brought to life by Trinidad Gonzáles. Gonzáles' performance is as equally compelling and mesmerizing as Galgani's, but the two are very different. Blanca doesn't have Julio's heart the way Emilia did, and the stark contrast between the two relationships serves up the drama and propels the movie forward. Julio keeps Blanca at arm's length, and the audience can really feel what he is feeling. Blanca seems standoffish and dishonest, but it is easy to see why a broken man would enter into such a relationship. It's just one more detail that gives "Bonsai" its honesty. Gonzáles is perfectly cast in this role.

The movie may be about a broken heart and the loss of a first love, but the theme of the film is dishonesty. From the first scene, people are lying. Some are white lies, some are blatantly obvious and others go undiscovered. As Julio scribbles his novel, the movie flashes back to his life with Emilia. It is never clear how much of the story is memory and how much is fiction. Blanca reads his story, but does she know the truth? The theme underlies the entire picture but somehow never feels forced or faked. The movie is natural, easy flowing and remarkably simple and charming.

Director Cristian Jimenez is a relative newcomer. This Chilean filmmaker helped adapt the screenplay from the novel by Alejandro Zambra. The film is beautifully shot. Every scene is delivered with stunning realism. The jokes are funny, the drama is intense and the whole picture comes together as something really special. Jimenez is a brilliant storyteller. This tale of true love, loss and healing is a rare treat. It is highly recommended for anyone who has ever loved, lost or just enjoys good filmmaking.

Rating: 3 out of 5