Initially, Alicia Scherson's debut feature "Play" appears to belong to that extended tease genre in which destiny-crossed lovers just miss each other at every turn, as a maid from the country and an upscale urbanite loop-de-loop around each other's turf. But Scherson's parable of love has less to do with romance than with class and how the other half lives.

A correction was made to this review on May 16, 2005

Initially, Alicia Scherson’s assured debut feature “Play” appears to belong to that extended tease genre in which destiny-crossed lovers just miss each other at every turn, as a maid from the country and an upscale urbanite loop-de-loop around each other’s turf, a la “Serendipity.” But Scherson’s piquant parable of love in the city of Santiago has less to do with romance than with class and how the other half lives, not unlike Latin American neighbor Lucrecia Martel’s compassionately ironic social portraiture, though markedly lighter in tone. Engaging cast, subtle humor and fresh lively styling could project “Play” into international arthouse release.

Cristina (Viviana Herrera), a poor country girl enamored of the city, cheerfully works as a live-in caregiver to a silent, ailing Hungarian, taking solitary walks and playing Japanese video games in arcades during her time off. She finds a briefcase in a garbage bin, and the credit cards, photographs and address book inside it allow her secret access to a different world.

Meanwhile, the owner of the briefcase, Tristan (Andrew Ulloa), a rich melancholic wimp, is having a very bad day. His wife Irene (Aline Kupperhein) leaves him for a hunky blond Russian and his independent contractor job is on hold due to a strike at the construction site.

Aimlessly wandering the streets, he is accosted by a crazed drunk and robbed by a passing thief, running into a lamppost for a cap off. Taking refuge with his exotic blind mother (Coca Guazzini), he finds a hostile, half-naked magician (Jorge Alis) in residence and the two exchange hilariously lame barbs over breakfast.

Cristina, wearing Tristan’s I-Pod earphones and puffing on his cigarettes, haunts his house, at first timidly then brazenly following whoever’s there, one absurd ducks-in-a-row segment finding Cristina following Tristan following estranged wifey Irene.

Director Scherson tells her story in jigsaw-puzzle fragments — her camera focuses with equal interest on a section of tie or a character feeding rose petals to a rabbit. The devil, they say, is in the details and Scherson has a sharp eye for the telling minutiae and everyday surrealism of Santiago’s streets. Moments and objects carry a charge that has little to do with plot, or perhaps are the plot.

Pic’s all-pervasive class-consciousness manages to be both gently empathetic and wickedly ironic. Thus metrophile Cristina’s ill-fated flirtation with her polar opposite, a city-born worker (J. Pablo Quezada) who yearns for the simple country life, is succinctly summed up in their long, impassioned, mostly one-sided conversation about excrement.

Impulsive, naive, yet curiously centered, Hererra’s Cristina hums with intense inner resiliency. Final scene finds her high atop the city whistling in the wind as the camera pans over Santiago to end on her face, a very 21st century, feminine version of Balzac’s intrepid Rastignac surveying the Paris he vows to conquer.

Tech credits are accomplished, Ricardo di Angelis’ HD lensing assured enough to playfully mime digital overexposure as pic deliberate fades to white in one of Scherson’s many spacey transitions in time and space.

Play

Chile-Argentina-France

Production

A Parox (Chile)/La Ventura (Chile)/Paraiso Prods. Diffusion (France)/Morocha Films (Argentina) production. Executive producers, Sergio Gandara, Macarena Lopez, Nathalie Trafford. Directed, written by Alicia Scherson.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Ricardo de Angelis; editor, Soledad Salfate; music, Joseph Costa, Marc Hellner; art director, Sebastian Munoz; sound (Dolby Digital), Miguel Hormazabal. Reviewed at Tribeca Cinemas, New York, April 14, 2005. (In Tribeca Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 106 MIN.

With

Viviana Herrera, Andres Ulloa, Aline Kuppenhein, Coca Guazzini, Jorge Alis, J. Pablo Quezada, Friscisco Copello.
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