Challenging herself to make a genuinely cinematic experience almost exclusively inside the confines of a big-city apartment, debuting Chilean writer-director Nayra Ilic surpasses her test with the sharply observed “Square Meter.” A virtual two-hander between a couple who seems to be in love but whose true emotions are soon exposed, Ilic’s drama consciously draws upon stage traditions and references, and fuses them with filmic sophistication. Pic will be ideal for fests devoted to younger filmmakers and auds, but less tempting to picky distribs and buyers.
Ilic sets a frivolous tone with a prelude in a Santiago nightclub that, in retrospect, suggests the more carefree life of Fran (Natalia Grez) and Andres (Alvaro Viguera) before they set up housekeeping. Once back from their long night out, the pair go over a script Andres is prepping as an actor, even as he’s starting rehearsals on a stage production of “Hamlet.” Their spacious downtown pad is full of unpacked boxes, a physical metaphor Ilic subtly deploys to indicate lives in transition.
“Square Meter” never tilts into comedy, but as Fran and Andres bumble and stumble their way through one botched stab at lovemaking after another, they seem assaulted by a steady stream of incoming relatives and ex-amours — all of them naturally curious to see the new place. Even as more bodies fill the apartment, the observant, precise, never intrusive camerawork communicates that the two lovers have less room to maneuver emotionally, until they’re at a frigid standstill.
The finale, which deliberately quotes Ibsen, is less a clever theatrical conceit than a natural extension of what’s led up to it — the sure sign of a carefully constructed scenario. Grez and Viguera are cast with similar care; they both look physically right for each other and are keenly able to register the gradual moment-by-moment changes that lead to the characters’ breakdown in communication. Notably, supporting cast members are never identified in the credits (or pic’s accompanying materials) with the roles they play.
Major tech contributions are clean, including Tomas Yovane and Nicolas Canobra’s lensing, Ilan Stehberg and Ilic’s editing, and Barbara Rebolledo’s production design.