Early on in Bonsái, a voiceover narrator informs us that the love blossoming between college students Julio (Diego Noguera) and Emilia (Nathalia Galgani) is doomed: Emilia will be dead by the end of the movie. Julio, however, will not. That’s the first sign that this unassuming, low-key movie, adapted from Alejandro Zambra’s acclaimed novella by writer-director Cristián Jiménez, is up to something different.
Julio and Emilia bond over Proust: He’s the only one in their literature class who hasn’t read In Search of Lost Time — he falls asleep at the beach with the book on his chest, which wrecks his suntan — but he lies about it, and she believes him. A hearty, sexual affair ensues, the sort young adults can have because they’re still unencumbered by financial and familial responsibilities, and can devote the bulk of their days to pursuing intellectual (and carnal) curiosities.
Eight years later, Julio, who has always been somewhat wispy and absent in personality, is carrying on a drab affair with a middle-aged neighbor (Trinidad Gonzales) and begins to write a familiar-sounding novel about a young couple who bond over Proust.
Flitting back and forth in time with a gentle, graceful ease, Bonsái explores the creative process and the way we rewrite our pasts for ourselves through the prism of a droll romantic comedy. Jiménez empathizes with the emotional stasis of dreamers who can’t bring themselves to wake up for fear of what they’ll learn about themselves. Through the character of Julio, Bonsái also illustrates the unbearable lightness of loneliness in a quiet, delicate manner: The lies we tell ourselves are sometimes the most painful of all.
Cast: Diego Noguera, Nathalia Galgani, Trinidad Gonzales, Gabriela Arancibia.
Writer-director: Cristián Jiménez. Based on the novel by Alejandro Zambra.
Producers: Bruno Bettati, Nadia Turincev, Julie Gayet.
A Strand Releasing release. Running time: 95 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Sexual situations, adult themes. Opens Friday May 18 in Miami-Dade: Tower, Miami Beach Cinematheque.