BEIRUT: Chile and Lebanon seem dissimilar. The South American country may be best known hereabouts for having had its democratically elected (socialist) government overthrown in a U.S.-sponsored coup in 1973, two years before this country’s civil war got started. Subsequent decades of military rule razed most traces of the left, transforming the country into a poster child for the so-called neoliberal economy.
The political, cultural and socioeconomic deracination of the Pinochet years has fueled some notable cinema – not least the work of documentarian Patricio Guzman.
His magisterial 2010 doc “Nostalgia for the Light,” for instance, draws the astronomers and archaeologists of the Atacama Desert into a story of Pinochet’s political detentions and killings that is gut-wrenching, lyrical and elevating.
Ricardo Carrasco’s 2014 feature “Vacaciones en Familia” (Family Vacation) also tells a story of the Chilean condition, albeit in a different cinematic language.
A comedy of ill-mannered suburbia, “Familia” isn’t gut-wrenching, lyrical or elevating. The opening shot sets the film in an affluent neighborhood of contemporary Santiago, where the Kelly family is starting its summer. Mom’s carefully showering. Dad’s trying to read the paper, and young Beto, their son, is absorbed in his online video game. The home around them is throbbing from the Deep House blasting from teenage Mimi’s stereo.
Mimi’s loud music is important. It provokes the Kellys’ nosy neighbor to complain to the police – so that when the smirking cop arrives to issue a ticket, he can inform the audience that Juan Kelly is known for his shady dealings.
Mimi’s exposed midriff also provides a bit of eye candy for Carrasco’s camera and, it seems, her father.
Everybody’s at home because the summer vacation season has begun. This opens a new front in the low-intensity war between Mimi’s mum, Sofia (Maria Izquierdo), and her nosy neighbor.
Here, family vacations are a mark of prestige. Most escape Santiago’s summer heat for a Chilean beach, while the well-to-do cross the border into Brazil.
After expressing insincere sympathy with the neighbor lady because she had to sack her cleaning lady and can’t afford a vacation, Sofia boasts that her own tribe will spend the month on a Brazilian beach.
Nosy neighbor is deflated but informs Sofia that she and her husband are saving to send their boy to Harvard – the prospect of which horrifies Sofia.
Juan Kelly (Julio Milostich) is actually unemployed, sacked for influence-peddling. He and Sofia can’t afford to buy meat at the grocery store, let alone holiday in Brazil.
To maintain a competitive edge over the neighbors, the Kellys fake their vacation – subsisting on a diet of pasta and beans for the month. Unable to step outside or turn on the lights, lest they attract the nosy neighbor’s attention, the family struggles to not go mad during their confinement.
“Familia” screened at Metropolis Cinema-Sofil Friday evening, the opening movie of Otras Miradas, a film cycle devoted to the cinema production of Spain, Portugal and Latin America.
Otras Miradas’ program is uneven. Though the cycle usually selects movies with some festival exposure, most of the films in its seventh edition have had brief lives on the festival circuit.
There are two tested titles.
Cesar Charlone, Enrique Fernandez’s 2007 feature “El bano del Papa” (The Pope’s Toilet) debuted in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section. Anyone who didn’t see it when it screened during Otras Miradas a couple of years ago could find worse ways to spend an evening.
The pleasant surprise is Kleber Mendonca Filho’s 2016 “Aquarius,” which competed for Cannes’ Palme D’Or earlier this year. The follow-up to his 2012 debut “Neighboring Sounds,” Filho’s film continues his artful dramatization of social change in Brazil, and his hometown Recife in particular.
As for Carrasco’s “Familia,” it’s not a very funny comedy.
One trope, however, does resonate in 2016 Beirut. Since no one’s allowed to leave the house during the family’s fictional month in Brazil, it’s impossible to dispose of the garbage. Black bags of the stuff amass in the tiny kitchen where – for ill-explained reasons – the family is forced to dine.
There might be a metaphor for this country’s trash crisis here. If so, this critic couldn’t find it.
“Otras Miradas” runs through Nov. 6. For information, see www.metropoliscinema.net.