The classics of the Western literary canon have enlightened and expanded millions of minds, changed the course of societies and taught readers how to negotiate a complex world through words. They’re also great for picking up potential sexy-time partners, something Chilean college student Julio (Diego Noguera) discovers one night at a party. Having seen his entire Lit 101 class raise their hands when asked if they’ve read Marcel Proust, Julio rushes out to buy a dog-eared copy of Swann’s Way, which inspires only a beachside snooze. Later, Emilia (Nathalia Galgani), a brooding young woman in a Ramones T-shirt, notices Julio’s book-sized patch of pale skin on his sunburnt chest; Proust’s name is dropped, and quicker than you can say madeleines, the two are rolling in the hay. Flash-forward to eight years later: Now a bearded aspiring novelist, Julio is sleeping with his middle-aged neighbor (Trinidad Gonzalez) and is secretly working on a pet project—the story of a young couple who bond over a love of Proust.…
Cristián Jiménez’s dust-dry dramedy attests to the writer-director’s own bibliophilia (the film is literally divided by chapter pages), as well as his lead actor’s ability to milk a deadpan look that would make Buster Keaton proud. But the more Bonsái alternates between remembrances of things past and the present, the more it tries to examine the contradictions of recasting a flawed reality through fiction—a significant notion that the film’s precious structure and borderline indie-quirkfest vibe often dilute to their own detriment.
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