Thursday, December 24, 2009

PSIFF10—Huacho

As reported earlier on The Evening Class, in 2007 the Global Film Initiative provided completion funding for Chilean director Alejandro Fernández Almendras' feature debut Huacho (Facebook page, in Spanish). In 2008 Almendras won the Sundance / NHK International Filmmaker Award. Huacho sceened in the Critics Week at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, had its North American premiere at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and is now seeing its US premiere at the 2010 Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF).

David Hudson gathered the reviews from Cannes for the IFC Daily (Jordan Mintzer, Variety; Jonathan Romney, Screen; interviews, Cineuropa), and then followed through at The Auteurs Daily with reviews from Toronto (Mike D'Angelo, Not Coming To A Theater Near You; Bernard Besserglik, The Hollywood Reporter; and my own for Twitch).

"An apt title for the film, huacho means 'bastard' or 'having no father',"
Diana Sanchez wrote in her program capsule for Toronto, "but can also mean 'abandoned.' " Huacho observes how four members of a southern Chilean peasant family are left behind by a modern way of life that does not include them.

Within the simple structure of a long summer day's cycle, Almendras' quasi-documentary tracks its four protagonists through overlapping narrative threads that achieve a threadbare honesty and intimacy. As much a portrait of their struggles to make do on limited means, Huacho skillfully captures the ignobility of work in the modern age. Grandma Clemira makes and sells cheese by the roadside to passing motorists who force her to sell her wares at less than what it costs her to make them. Her husband Cornelio has become too old to work in the fields and suffers for not being able to provide for his family, remembering better days when he could. Cornelio's memories only annoy the young boy Manuel who longs for material things that will help him fit in with a clique of well-do-do classmates who ostracize him by calling him "peasant." Manuel's mother Alejandra is raising him without a father and works as a cook at minimum wage. To get necessary money for the family to pay off its utility bill, she's forced to pawn off her only nice dress. Sadness and frustration pervade all their lives, with scant relief in sight.

Manuel's teacher writes on the chalkboard: "One day or another we will all be happy." But what he's referencing is death, not opportunity. The film achieves added poignancy for being dedicated to Juan Pablo Rebella who—Sanchez informed me—took his own life, unable to express the pain he felt in everyday existence. Huacho holds a gentle mirror up to that desperate pain, reflecting loyalty to family and perseverance against odds, let alone one filmmaker's homage to another. (Reviewed at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival; 09/12/09.)

01/03/10 UPDATE: In his Senses of Cinema Toronto dispatch, Dan Sallitt considered Huacho to be "the best debut feature at TIFF" and a film that "does all the little things right."

Sallitt writes: "Striking an interesting political balance, Fernández Almendras is faithful to his perceived view of the family's persistence, stoicism and acceptance of difficulties, yet gently shapes the narrative to highlight each member's struggle with hardship and class inequity. The film's symmetrical structure, more effective for being understated, jumps out with pleasing directness at the ending."

Cross-published on
Twitch.

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