Renee (Roxana Berco) returns home one Saturday after giving an early morning piano lesson. She lives in the provinces with her husband Juan (Guillermo Arengo) and their five year-old son Santi (Agustin Alcoba). Over breakfast, they discuss a possible move to Buenos Aires but rule it out after Juan provides a reasoned argument against it. He suggests a family trip to the beach. Renee proposes for Juan alone to take Santi to the beach while she takes her ailing mother Virginia (Susana Campos) to the country. The film bifurcates as the narrative alternates between the two excursions. Renee picks up Virginia at an assisted-living facility; they drive to a rustic cabin, sit by the fireplace and later take a walk in the forest. Juan and the inquisitive Santi travel further, to an almost empty beach, walk down a pier, build a castle out of sand, and meet two fishermen who entertain the boy with sea tales and teach him how to gut a fish.
The title of Ines de Oliveira Cesar's film translates to "As the Hours Go By". It refers to how time slips away seemingly unnoticed as we live our lives. The film central theme is the randomness of fate_"If one knew what's the time for each being..." sighs Renee to her mother. There's an irrepressible but diffuse perception that the hours we share with this family will bring about permanent change in their lives.
The experience of viewing "Como Pasan Las Horas" is particularly difficult to put into words because so much of what we think and feel while watching it is conveyed through the juxtaposition of image and sound. The dialogue is consistently colloquial and seemingly improvised, particularly the amusing-often-funny exchanges between father and son which convey deep filial bonds. During both excursions, the audiovisuals impart symbolic meaning and resonance to environmental elements: cloud formations, waves and the roar of the tides, leaves rustling under feet, the changing light of day, the sound of the wind. It's as if wood, sea and sky conspired to match the characters' moods, as if these elements had privileged knowledge. In addition, cinematographer Gerardo Silvatici occasionally uses customized lenses to create anamorphic distortions that suggest a heightened reality (Alexandr Sokurov used this technique to similar effect in "Mother and Son").
Ultimately, "Como Pasan Las Horas" would not be a masterpiece if the performances by the quartet of actors didn't serve up rich, multi-dimensional characters. Ms. Campos is a veteran actress who died of a brain tumor shortly after conclusion of the shoot. She was Roxana Berco's mother, and it would not be surprising to learn that they channeled real-life experience into their roles. There's a rapport between Mr. Arengo and little Agustin Alcoba that suggests long rehearsals and a filmmaker who knows how to shape a performance. The unforgettable one by Alcoba is the best performance by a young child since Victoire Thivisol's Ponette. "Como Pasan Las Horas" is a deeply humanistic work of art and the best of the 54 films I watched at the Miami International Film Festival.
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