Bonsai Review

It has happened.

I always assumed my unshakeable devotion to Spike Jones’s Adaptation, a film that manages to capture the creative process of writing with the affectionate allegiance of plant enthusiasts, would forever ensure it that special place in my heart

But this has been challenged by the untouchable and exquisite Bonsai.

Director Cristián Jiménez’s award winning film illustrates the duelling beauty and frustration of the finer things in life; namely plants, literature and love.

We are introduced to Julio at university in Valdivia as he sunbathes shirtless on the beach. He falls asleep and is left with the outline of a Proust novel burnt into his chest for his laziness.

Less than five minutes in and I already love Julio. There, I said it.

Flash-forward eight years and we’re privy to a failed opportunity for Julio to transcribe the handwritten notes of an acclaimed writer’s latest novel, Bonsai. Though he doesn’t get the job, Julio pretends that he has before sharing an idea for his own literary masterpiece with his neighbour, casual lover and translator Blanca.

So Julio decides to scribe his own Bonsai, retelling his lost love with Emilia from eight years earlier; a relationship borne of their mutual tea addiction, love of literature, music and Ramones t-shirts.

Jiménez’s film is an impressive exploration of memory, of time as cyclical, uncontrollable ellipses in which the events of our lives simply fall into. The narrative of Julio, played by Diego Noguera, seductively slips back and forth in time.

Bonsai delicately balances the breakdown of two relationships, as we follow Julio’s dual narrative of his past life and love as well as his desperately present struggle to create a story of his own.

Naturally, Julio as the agonising common denominator in both.

There exists a strong juxtaposition of his claustrophobic relationship with Emilia, set against the emotional detachment and sterility of his current beau Blanca which forces Julio and the viewer alike to wonder where it all went wrong?

Or even if it did.

Much like Bonsai’s protagonist, we experience as an audience that fiction is free from the boundaries of time.

Jiménez’s adaptation of Alejandro Zambra’s novel of the same name is a remarkable illustration of how the memory functions; questioning exactly what it is we remember about those we’ve once loved.

How do we relive the time we spent with them? How much of these recollections are true? Or is memory essentially fiction by the time we access it?

Julio’s moments of clarity and self-discovery ricochet through time, as he discovers who he is in the wake of his relationships with both Emilia and Blanca. His search for clarity through his own identity is devastatingly poignant as well as distressing. Romantic but still immersed in a heavy sense of melancholy. Julio’s deceiving innocence humorously masks a genuine kindness and the seeming indestructibility of youth.

Refreshingly self-reflective and truly accomplished, Bonsai is a thought provoking interrogation of the often traumatic parallels that exist between passionately romantic relationships and the creative process of literature.

And Julio, yes, I still love.

Lindsay Parnell

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March 2012
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