Joshua Reviews Cristian Jimenez’s Bonsai [Theatrical Review]

It’s the summer movie season, and while the film world and those who encompass it as fans may be flocking to the megaplexes for comic book movie after comic book movie or your run-of-the-mill sequels, the indie realm is still churning out some of the year’s best fare. In a busy week that sees films like I Wish and Nobody Else But You, the true beacon of this summer’s indie output may very well be yet another beautiful little film from the nation of Chile.

Entitled Bonsai, the film comes to us from director Cristian Jimenez, and coming off of a hot debut at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, we may have one of the most beautiful, if slight, romance films that we’ve seen in quite some time.

Bonsai stars the Diego Noguera as a man who, after being denied an internship with a famous writer, decides to lie to his girlfriend about transcribing a novel, only to be actually working on his own piece of writing. Drawing inspiration from his own life, Julio uses a past relationship as fodder for his new novel. Based on a novel itself, the film was a hit at both Cannes and Toronto last year, and for good reason. For damn good reason.

The biggest star of the film has to be Jimenez as director. Coming off his rather well received debut, Optical Illusions, Jimenez is on the top of his game here, crafting a beautifully intimate and intimately beautiful drama. The relationship between Julio and his love interest, Emilia (Natalia Galgani) is palpable, if not admittedly awkward, just as first love truly is. The photography is justly lush and vibrant, and the film itself strays from overstylized drama, opting for a much more naturalistic, but wholly singular, sense of style.

Based on a novel by Alejandro Zambra, the film was penned by Jimenez as well, and is duly emotionally devastating, and yet oddly charming and comedic. The lines are delivered with brutal bluntness, steering clear of twee characterization, giving the otherwise pretentious sense of high falutant literary musings that encompass this film a definite realism within this world. The script feels right coming out of these actor’s mouths, and their performances are so tonally perfect, that the film thrives when they are able to interact with one another.

However, this film isn’t without flaw. The performances themselves, while tonally perfect for this type of film, don’t add much emotional or dramatic depth to the film as a whole. Overall, Bonsai‘s main flaw is that it is immensely slight. Intellectually, the idea of a man taking inspiration from a past relationship whilst in turn lying about what he is doing in a new one, only to find out something devastating about the former, is quite intriguing. That said, emotionally, the film is always at a strong distance from the viewer, never allowing the person to get involved with this relationship other than at an ideological level. Without that emotional heft, there is something distinctly cold about the film.

Overall, while it is a slight romantic comedy/drama, there is so much to love here. The performances are solid, if a bit cold, and Jimenez is at the top of his writing and directing game with this picture. It’s a lush and vibrant piece of romantic filmmaking, and with the Proust jokes not coming off as hilariously pretentious, the writing here is absolutely top notch. Simply put, if this is how the indie world is starting off their summer season, we are in for something really special.