Thursday Till Sunday14 April, 2013
Although many independent and emerging filmmakers may be obliged to work with relatively modest budgets, there is one distinctive benefit enjoyed by those who make films in South America. The sheer diversity and natural splendour of its landscapes allow for some truly imposing backdrops in which plots can unfurl, characters can develop, and a strong sense of emotional weight can be evoked through the environments in which the narrative is played out. Want to bathe your characters in a dark and, most probably, somewhat insane light? Look no further than the sweaty and mysterious depths of the Amazon jungle. Seeking to inject your film with idealistic connotations of escapism and self-retrospection? Just shoot the film on a tropical beach, where Pacific waves and palm trees can convey harmonious concepts far more easily and effectively than any number of contrived, urbanised scenarios. Or perhaps you want to address destiny or existential themes of life and existence. Well, the Andes Mountains could be perfect for you, as their imposing and intimidating magnificence forces home our own miniscule and insignificant role in the natural order, encapsulated in the brief flash of our existence next to the eternal presence of the continent’s backbone. In short, South America is a visual goldmine for filmmakers, photographers, writers and so on, and no shortage of enterprising creative types have exploited its many wonders in the formation of their art. There may of course be some logistical challenges to heaving a film crew into the middle of the Amazon, but Werner Herzog managed it in Peru over forty years ago for his degenerate-conquistador epic Aguirre: Wrath of God and his career has never looked back.
It is the arid and barren scenery of northern Chile that provides the backdrop for Dominga Sotomayor’s film Thursday to Sunday (De Jueves a Domingo), a great expanse of nothingness that arouses feelings of isolation, solitude and emptiness. A middle-class Santiago family takes a long weekend roadtrip and the narrative plays out largely from the perspective of ten-year old Lucia (Santi Ahumada), who looks on sadly but resignedly as cracks in her parents’ marriage grow into fissures and the family gradually comes apart at the seams. It is a hollow and lifeless relationship that reflects the landscapes through which the family pass on their bitter holiday, and both the physical and the emotional voids are starkly captured in the film’s striking cinematography.
Things don’t start out too badly as Lucia and her little brother bubble with anticipation at the journey but the uncomfortable tension between mum and dad soon becomes plainly apparent to the observational Lucia, while seven-year old ManueL (Emiliano Freifeld) remains innocently ignorant that life as he knows it is coming to an inevitable shakeup. Nevertheless, the family head out on the open road, and while Lucia and Manuel make the most of riding on the roof rack and jumping in rivers, the trip is overshadowed by the civil yet absolute breakdown in mum and dad’s relationship. Mum Ana (Paola Giannini) has a permanent expression of exasperated weariness etched across her features while dad Fernando (Francisco Perez-Bannén) remains aloof and moody, good with the kids but clearly agitated by the current situation.
The story unwinds in a simple arc, with a soft poignancy brought about by Lucia’s helpless awareness of the family troubles. There is little to dislike about this family: they drive a beat-up old station wagon while mum and dad both clearly love their kids, who in turn are well-behaved and affectionate. A pleasant family then, whose heads have unfortunately drifted into a state of disconnected and stale cohabitation, a gradual downward spiral that manifests throughout the trip.
The film doesn’t dwell on the family’s background and as such little blame is attributed. This is not a story with a beginning or an end. Instead, what is seen is merely the middle, a window into the lives of a normal group of people living an all-too-common reality of poor communication and under-appreciation but conscious of the children’s wellbeing. There is little on-screen resolution but by the end the audience has seen enough to draw its own conclusion of what will happen back in Santiago. The desolate panoramas of the desert landscapes lend themselves fully to the film’s tone and provide it with some vivid visual content.
Although well-shot and nicely acted, particularly by the talented Santi Ahumada as Lucia, the film at times loses its way slightly. While it may deal with subject matter that a large part of its audience will be able to identify with, it appears in a couple of cases to be overly understated in its desire to come across in a gentle and realistic manner. Extended shots and establishing conversations don’t always add much to the overall context of events, while the slow pace drags at a couple of points as another shot of a contemplative child fills the screen.
Overall however, this is an enjoyable film, as much for the scenic backdrops and the strong acting as for the strength of the story. The characters are easily believable, even if at times it is hard to muster up too much empathy for them, and the narrative passes through enough emotions and developments to maintain interest in what happens to them. The relative lack of a definite conclusion may put some people off but Thursday to Sunday contains a warmth that emerges even through the icy strain of the central characters’ relationship. Dominga Sotomayor won the main prize at the 2012 Valdivia Film Festival, the most important in Chile, for this film and the recent UK release is a merited case worthy of wider audiences. Hopefully it will be followed by several of the other compelling and innovative works to have been made in the region in recent times.
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