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Like the gentle life of a bonsai plant, the love of Julio and Emilia grows slowly, survives delicately, and eventually, dies quietly. Director/writer Cristian Jimenez tells the mildly humorous story of the young Chilean couple's first relationship which sustained by literature, sex, and a complacent enjoyment of one another's presence as the days slowly drag on.
Julio, a monotonous yet thoughtful university student first catches Emilia's eye at a small party in their seemingly motionless Chilean town. It seems that the time they first hook up is almost completely out of boredom, as the party is dying down, and they simply have nothing better to do. This passionless, comedic hookup leads to a playful, albeit sedated relationship that revolves around sex and literature.
Jimenez uses a consistent, 8-year flashback and flash-forward from Julio's college life with Emilia to his adult life as a struggling, very much alone writer. Julio remains a static character throughout his life in terms of his passive, sarcastic demeanor as well as his tendency to constantly tell lies.
Julio's lies are not serious, though they always catch up with him, undermining his relationship with Emilia as well as his ability to connect with those around him. Julio's first lie is in class, when a literature professor asks all the students who had done the assigned reading to raise their hands. As students slowly raise their hands surrounding him, Julio cluelessy gazes around and meekly raises his hand. This first, awkward and hilarious lie shows how Julio chooses the path of least resistance and foreshadows his future passionless relationship with Emilia.
Julio's tendency to lie follows him into adult hood. He makes an offer to transcribe the novel of a well-established author, Gazmuri, onto the computer but is rejected, as his price is too high. He needlessly tells his current partner and neighbor, Blanca, that he had received the job. He begins writing his own novel by hand and for some reason, transcribes it to the computer when he is around Blanca. He titles the novel Bonsai, by Gazmuri, a loose autobiography of his past relationship with Emila. For some odd reason, he goes so far as to change his style of writing to cursive and to purposely spill tea and cigarettes on his notebooks in order to feign the authenticity of the journals.
The story is riddled with literary references as well as an on going bonsai plant theme, which acts as a metaphor for the relationship that Julio and Emilia share as college students. In Julio's novel, he blatantly compares a relationship to a bonsai plant in a number of ways. To grow a bonsai, one must tie down the plant's branches in order to imitate the weight of snow in nature. The mildly depressing comparison is drawn to his own past relationship with Emilia, in which the two unceremoniously tied themselves down and took on each other's burden in order to remain together.
Julio also makes a more cheerful and meaningful metaphor regarding the bonsai plant: once a bonsai plant is removed from its pot, it will no longer be a bonsai, but will grow like a normal plant. The connection here is that in order for a relationship to last, it must have a strong foundation. For Julio and Emilia, their relationship actually begun when they both found out they shared a strong love of literature. Unfortunately for them, they discovered this by both lying about having read a book by Proust, in order to seem like authentic literati. Despite quiet hilarity of them both attempting to discuss the pros and cons of a book that neither of them has read, this small lie along with a few others results in the eventual demise of their tender relationship.
The overall message of Julio's story is quite complex and meaningful though possibly too complex some. Many of the countless references went right over my own head, though the more learned members of the audience definitely enjoyed the esoteric, literary jokes and metaphors and were laughing right along at key moments. Bonsai is obviously a must for bibliophiles, and despite catering to a select audience, overall, the story is quite attractive nonetheless, is edited and shot beautifully, and is an honest and fascinating look at first love lost. The story does roll out slowly, so be ready for a leisurely look at Julio's life.
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