(Jirafa) “Some things have value because they serve no purpose.” This line is spoken by Julio (Diego Noguera) – the protagonist of Bonsái, by Chilean director Cristián Jiménez – to explain why he is learning Latin, a dead language. Julio isn't really talking about Latin, though; he's talking about his compulsion to revisit his own past through writing fiction. He feels the need to obsessively deconstruct his relationship with Emilia (Nathalia Galgani), despite the pain it may uncover.
Bonsái is a strange film, elliptical and sad. It won't satisfy those who crave resolution in their drama, nor will it please those who want to believe in the redeeming power of love. Rather, it takes a realistic approach, espousing the unpopular – yet 100% accurate – view that life is a series of things that happen, without pattern or purpose. The amount of meaning we find in the events of our lives is exactly equal to the amount of meaning we put there.
This isn't a nihilistic view of the universe, it's an existential one. Meaning still exists, but it's entirely human-created. Our lives do have value, but we should at least consider the notion that they serve no higher purpose – and that idea can free us if we take it to heart.
What meaning can we take from Bonsái, then? Well, the film's central interest is the question, Why do people write? It does an admirable job of answering that question. Essentially, the answer the film provides is, To understand their lives – but, obviously, there's a bit more nuance involved. The film has a brilliant Ouroboros-like structure: Julio is hired, then quickly fired by famous author Gazmuri (Hugo Medina), but tells his new lover Blanca (Trinidad González) that he's still employed transcribing Gazmuri's new novel from handwritten notebooks. In fact, he's writing the notebooks himself, telling the story of his relationship with Emilia eight years previous.
Why does he do this? That answer is a bit more vague. To impress Blanca? To motivate himself to finish his novel? Whatever the case, it leads to some very interesting developments. Julio has become a fictional character. As far as Blanca is concerned, the story she's reading is a fantasy, and she analyzes it as such. She tells Julio what she thinks about the motivations of the two lovers, giving him unexpected insight into the events of his own life.
In terms of narrative rhythm, Bonsái has a lot in common with Wes Anderson's work. The scenes are constructed like little dioramas; they say their piece and then vacate the room. There's even a touch of wry humor that recalls Anderson's worldview – but nowhere near that level of quirky artifice. Instead, Bonsái aims for melancholic realism, and succeeds.
The poster for the film declares, “IN THE END EMILIA DIES AND JULIO DOES NOT DIE,” as does the voiceover in the first five minutes. Clearly, Bonsái isn't concerned with giving its viewers plot-level surprises; rather, it's interested in probing the significance of these events in the searching mind of the writer. Like Proust's À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu – which Julio and Emilia try to convince each other they've read – the film examines and re-examines the events of a life without inherent judgment. It's a subtle experience that requires patience, but ultimately that patience will be rewarded.
For Fans Of: Adaptation, Barton Fink, A Separation, Certified Copy
Why We Like It: moody drama of emotions, dry observational humor, beautiful shots of Santiago