Intellectually rigorous, excessive and erotic.

Intellectually rigorous, if also excessive and erotic, “Drama” could be a pivotal film in the evolution of post-Pinochet Chilean cinema, presenting probing questions about the collective national memory, sexual identity and the relationship of both to theater. Film by UCLA-educated helmer Matias Lira is likely too obscure and Chile-centric to make much of an incursion into U.S. theaters, save for the more adventurous arthouse.

“Drama’s” central characters, a Truffaut/Godard-inspired romantic triangle, are acting students who live their emotional and sexual lives on the edge of dramatic hysteria. It seems essential to an aud’s appreciation of Lira’s structure to be familiar with Antonin Artaud, who is the inspiration for the three students — the blond, bisexual Mateo (Eusebio Arenas), the luscious Maria (Isadora Urrejola) and the conflictedly gay Angel (Diego Ruiz) — and is quoted at length. The connection between the surrealist/madman’s Theater of Cruelty and the experiences of modern Chileans will be quite evident, and ironic, as long as one knows a bit of background on the theorist and the country in question.

If not, the antics of Mateo, Maria and Angel — always pushing the envelope of propriety and sexuality in search of authenticity — are still flamboyantly entertaining, if less politically potent. Each loves the other, and each urges the other to overcome his or her inhibitions: The normally retiring Angel not only consorts with the gay hustlers who congregate at the village square; he allows himself to be “sold,” more or less, until Mateo rescues him. Mateo, meanwhile, flirts with the homoerotic, even though it seems to be against his nature, because how can he be a real actor otherwise? Maria, psychologically stressed because Mateo never stops acting, dresses like a prostitute, and it becomes unclear whether she is one or not — only that Mateo’s battle with her client brings matters to a breaking point.

The various personae each of the three characters assumes, in relation to each other and to the world, are a means of finding themselves through performance; the inseparable nature of performance to the living of one’s life is one of Lira’s key theses. It isn’t until late in the film that the political dimension of the film — which is said to be based on a real story — becomes evident. And the intrusion of recent Chilean history into a film that exudes such libertinism and youth is quite powerful.

Production values are good, notably the exhilarating work of art director Estefania Larrain.

Drama

Chile

Production

A Productora Ocio/BF Distribution/Ibermedia Fund/Alba Fund/Corfo/Banco Estado presentation. Produced by Magdalena Maino, Sebastian Aloi. Directed by Matias Lira. Screenplay, Lira, Sebastian Arrau, Eliseo Altunaga.

Crew

Camera (color), Miguel Ioan Littin; editor, Soledad Salfate; music, Cristian Heyne; art director, Estefania larrain; costume designers, Jeanine McKirnan, Francisca Roman; sound, Miguel Hormazabal, Boris Herrera. Reviewed at Slamdance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 26, 2011. Running time: 78 MIN.

With

Eusebio Arenas, Isadora Urrejola, Diego Ruiz.

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