In an attempt to impress Emilia, Julio lies about reading Proust. Suddenly, the two are plunged into a love affair set among university classrooms, study groups, and punk rock concerts. Eight years later, working as a freelance editor and struggling to become a writer, Julio offers to transcribe the handwritten manuscripts of Chilean novelist Gazmuri. Because his fee is too high, Gazmuri does not hire him. But Julio proceeds to write his own version of Gazmuri’s novel anyway, incorporating idealized memories of his college romance with Emilia.
Based on Alejandro Zambra’s novel, BONSÁI humorously intercuts between past and present as Julio confronts his frustrating adulthood by revisiting and rewriting his memories. Contributing to the current explosion of contemporary Chilean cinema, Cristián Jiménez’s nostalgic tale of love and literature is a striking tribute to lies, fiction and all things artificial. [Description by Dilcia Barrera of AFI Fest.]
[indieWIRE invited directors with films in 2011 AFI Fest’s Breakthrough, New Auteurs and Young Americans section to submit responses in their own words about their films. Get to know the films before they screen. AFI Fest takes place November 3 – 11 in Los Angeles.]
Director: Cristián Jiménez
Screenwriter: Cristián Jiménez
Producer: Bruno Bettati, Julie Gayet, Nadia Turincev
Director of Photography: Inti Briones
Editor: Soledad Salfate
Music: Caroline Chaspoul, Eduardo Henriquez
Cast: Diego Noguera, Natalia Galgani, Gabriela Arancibia, Trinidad González, Hugo Medina
Director’s Bio: “Bonsái” is the second feature directed by Cristián Jiménez. His debut film “Optical Illusions” premired at San Sebastian 2009 and was screened in Japan, France, Sweden, Lithuania, India, Italy, Venezuela, Brazil, Poland, the United States, Australia and Germany.
Responses courtesy of “Bonsái” director Cristián Jiménez.
Your movie: In 140 characters or less, what’s it about?
A literature student. Proust. His girlfriend. A plant. A novelist. A typing job. A new girlfriend. A fake manuscript. A bonsai. A taxi ride.
Now tell us what it’s really about.
It’s about a guy who falls in love with a girl. Both study literature and books are pretty much their thing, but they’re lazy readers and lie about having read stuff they have not, like Proust. Eight years later, he meets with a famous novelist who needs someone to type a manuscript into the computer. He gets overexcited and tells the girl he’s now dating that he’s actually doing the job. When he’s informed that someone else will do the transcription, he decides to produce a mansucript that looks like the one he saw during the job interview and pretend to be only typing it for the famous writer. Since he needs a plot, he uses the love story he had while in college eight years earlier.
I hardly spoke on set…
I was born in Valdivia, a small town in the south of Chile. There was not much interest in the arts in my family and pretty much everyone regarded success as having a full time job with the government or whoever would not easily fire you. As a teenager, I started writing short stories; I’m not sure how or why. At first they were awful, but they got better and by the time I was seventeen I had a couple of decent ones to read out loud to my friends.
Later, when I was studying sociology, I did some really amateur videos with friends. Some of my short stories got published in magazines or anthologies. One of them had the title: Storytellers of the 21st Century, which was a futurist thing back then. My girlfriend’s sister at the time started dating a guy who was in film school. He had a hard time writing his screenplays, so I helped him out. I ended up co-writing three features for him and two of them got made. When I turned 27, I decided I wanted to give it a go at making my own films. Two years later, I released my first professional short. The first day of shooting, I was concerned the crew would realize how little I knew about what we were doing, so I hardly spoke on set and they thought that was very cool. After that I did learn, I guess.
The first inspiration…
It’s based on a novel, so the first inspiration was reading it. I felt there was not just a great book, but also one I could relate to in a special way because it talks about my generation. In fact, Alejandro Zambra was born the same year I was.
To me “Bonsái” does not just tell Julio’s story, but refers to a moment right after the end of the dictatorship when the collective horizon that had had so much weight over the years was suddenly not there anymore. Maybe it was a heavy thing, but as much it was oppressive, it provided with certainties. This is about youngsters who have to deal with this sudden lack of certainties which makes them more lonely than they could have ever imagined. Literature doesn’t save them but gives them some kind of shelter.
On the other hand, when I was 20 I also wanted to be a writer, so in adapting I was not just working on the source but also on my own experience and the one of people who were close to me at the time. Bbeyond all this, what also seduced me in the novel was that it explores the notion of the structure, the style and even the design of the book as an object. I like to think of filmmaking in a similar way: not just a screenplay turned images, but a thing, an object.
Some of the actors were getting really crazy…
The biggest challenge for me was finding the right cast. I worked a lot on that, with several rounds of auditions. Some actors were getting really crazy, because we kept calling them back for new readings, often of the same scenes, but trying new combinations of actors. The good thing was that we didn’t need to rehearse after that.
What’s great about films…
Some people will connect to the love story and its literary side, and others will be more seduced by the slacker aspect. Rock music lovers will have their special moments. I guess that’s what great about films. People from different background relate to them in new and unexpected ways and see things that maybe were always there and nobody had yet noticed, so maybe they will respond to the film in ways I haven’t even imagined.
Made with the hands…
There wasn’t one film that specifically inspired this one; it’s not a film about films. I could mention “Yi Yi” by Edward Yang, “Drifting Clouds” by Aki Kaurismaki, “The Magic Gloves” by Martín Rejtman and “The Lady Eve” by Preston Sturges. But the list could be another one if you had asked me a year ago. One thing I knew very clearly was that I didn’t want to make a film that regards writing as a sacred activity loaded with solemnity. And I wanted books to be regarded as something that do not only exist as the result of an intellectual activity. Books are made with the hands.
I’m working on two projects. One is a family story set in the south of Chile, where the drama is triggered by the grandfather’s decision to leave the grandmother. It will structured around food and cooking and the kitchen will play a great role. The other story is based in Europe and is a romance between a Latin American girl from a privileged background and a European guy that comes from the working class.
A Californian neo-realist…
I’m really happy to go to LA again. I was there a couple of months ago and it was a great experience that made me feel like David Lynch was actually not a nutter but a kind of Californian neo-realist. I have a friend there that doesn’t have a driver’s license and we took the bus from Hollywood to Venice. It was a nice adventure and people kept throwing jaw-dropping wows our way when we explained we did that.