Chilean film at Cannes celebrates life and books

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Posted: May 16, 2011 2:35 PM
Chilean film at Cannes celebrates life and books

Life, literature and cinema are woven so tightly in "Bonsai," a movie adaptation of a Chilean novel of the same name that screened at Cannes, that even the director can't say which elements are from the book and which are autobiographical.

It's the tender and bittersweet tale of a would-be writer, pushing 30 and stuck in a dead-end job in a book shop, who looks back on his failed college relationship with a fellow bibliophile. Their courtship _ which took place mostly in a bed where the two would take turns reading aloud _ haunts the character for years, until he puts it down on paper.

It's a poignant tale that looked sure to please anyone who's ever entertained literary or other artistic pretentions _ especially failed ones.

The novel "Bonsai," by Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra, is so brief that the movie's director-screenwriter Cristian Jimenez said he drew extensively on his own life to fill in the gaps.

Like Julio, the main character, Jimenez also "had literary pretensions at about age 20."

"The movie's based on things that I lived through, things I observed, books that I read at that time," said the 35-year-old Chilean. "I actually don't even really know which elements are autobiographical and which come from the book. You start to write and there's a point where things are starting to take form, and fiction and life get mixed up.

"That's actually exactly what the movie's all about," he said.

There's no mixing up one thing: Jimenez' grandma. She plays Julio's grandmother in the film, a caustic little fireball of a woman who provides much of the movie's comic relief.

"I don't even think she realizes the importance her role" has in the movie, Jimenez said. "She told my uncle, 'they came over and they were recording me for a movie or something.'"

Because Jimenez finished the movie less than a week before it was screened as part of the Cannes Film Festival's "Un Certain Regard" secondary competition, his grandmother still hasn't seen it, he said.

The rest of the cast is made up of professional actors.

A native of the central Chilean city of Valdivia, Jimenez initially studied sociology before time abroad in Germany, where he attended a film festival that sparked his interest in cinema.

"There was this moment where I said to myself, 'maybe I could make a movie,' though at that point it seemed like a remote and faraway possibility," he said. "Then I started making videos, very amateurish things with my friends that little by little started becoming more and more serious."

Jimenez said he considers not having gone to film school an advantage.

"When I started to work with professionals, I had all these ideas and people would just say 'what?'"

That fresh perspective is obvious in "Bonsai," which, with its tone that hits the sweet spot between melancholy and humor, is among the loveliest movies at Cannes so far.

The movie _ which follows on Jimenez's 2004 debut, "The Treasure of the Snails _ is among 19 movies in Cannes' secondary competition.

The festival runs through May 22.