'Huacho'

Pic is a highly promising debut from Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Fernandez Almendras.

A warm and touching family saga that elicits drama from the simplest of everyday realities, “Huacho” is a highly promising debut from Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Fernandez Almendras. Never pandering to easy sentiments yet ultimately moving, the story follows 24 hours in the life of a provincial family coping with poverty in central Chile. Superbly lensed in sun-drenched Super 16 and edited with a structural harmony that weaves four stories into one seamless narrative, pic succeeds on a terrain previously farmed by Argentine realists Lucrecia Martel and Lisandro Alonso. Fests and arthouses should both watch out for “Huacho.”

In the distant suburbs of Chillan — the mid-sized capital of Chile’s agricultural Nuble Province — a family of four awakens in the pre-dawn hours and begins prepping for the daily grind. In the absence of modern comforts such as working electricity, grandparents Clemira (Clemira Aguayo) and Cornelio (Cornelio Villagran) grab breakfast with their hardworking daughter Alejandra (Alejandra Yanez) and her sweet but stubborn preteen son, Manuel (Manuel Hernandez), and then they all head off to separate destinations.

Rather than cross-cutting between the different trajectories, Fernandez Almendras and editor Sebastien de Sainte Croix (“Two Alone in Paris”) simply present one full story at a time, then jump back to the same opening scene to focus on the next character.

While Clemira is forced to lower the price of the homemade cheese she sells along the highway, Alejandra tries to convince her boss to advance a month’s salary so she can pay the utility bill. When the latter refuses, Alejandra has to return the one colorful dress she was hoping to keep.

Third segment follows Manuel as he heads to school and gets snubbed by his richer classmates as they play with a PSP. Later on, he wanders to a nearby arcade for a few lonely rounds of “Dance Dance Revolution,” jumping about with a desperate air that’s absolutely heartbreaking.

Final portion follows the yarn-cracking grandfather as he spends a peaceful afternoon working in a field, ultimately revealing a ray of hope for his family.

Winner of the Golden Bear in 2007 for his similarly crafted short, “Along Came the Rain,” Fernandez Almendras portrays a world in which even the smallest events can carry great weight for those barely scraping by. His minimalist script blends with docu-style direction that reveals the minor beauties of the rural setting, as well as the darker plight of peasants trying to survive in a ruthless market economy.

Low-budget but expert tech package features grainy, color-saturated cinematography (blown up from Super 16) by Raoul Ruiz regular Inti Briones and ambient sound design by Pablo Pinochet and Dominique Viellard (“Z32,” “God’s Offices”). Amateur thesping is top-notch.

Huacho

Chile - France - Germany

Production

A Sophie Dulac Distribution (in France) release of a Charivari Films, Arte France Cinema (France)/Jirafa Films (Chile)/Pandora Films Produktion (Germany) production. (International sales: Films Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Elise Jalladeau, Bruno Bettati. Directed, written by Alejandro Fernandez Almendras.

Crew

Camera (color, Super 16-to-35mm), Inti Briones; editor, Sebastien de Sainte Croix; production designer, Beatriz Carrillo; costume designer, Mary Ann Smith; sound (Dolby SRD), Pablo Pinochet, Dominique Viellard; assistant director, Oscar Godoy; casting, Paola Leoncini. Reviewed at Cinematheque Francaise, Paris, May 6, 2009. (In Cannes Film Festival -- Critics' Week.) Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Clemira Aguayo, Alejandra Yanez, Cornelio Villagran, Manuel Hernandez. (Spanish dialogue)

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