A mother’s tragic loss triggers contemplation, conquest of grief and a meeting with Baja whales in Hari Sama’s personal, sensitively rendered second feature, “The Dream of Lu.” Made in a style somewhere between the current Mexican cinema poles of rigorous art film and aud-pleasing melodrama, pic belongs to a growing humanist trend that includes Maria Novaro’s “The Good Herbs,” also starring lead Ursula Pruneda. Slackness in midsection renders the drama less than it could have been, and will pose a challenge for future fest and theatrical dreams.Divided into three sections identified as “movements,” the film elliptically drops the viewer into the early grief stages of classical guitarist Lu (Pruneda), eventually revealing that her 5-year-old son, Sebastian (Emiliano Magana), has died of a cerebral aneurysm. Taking meds and blankly staring out the window of her cozy living room, Lu appears uncertain what to do next, with her mom and her friend Laura (Maria del Carmen Farias) aiding in every way they can and urging her to attend group sessions for grieving parents. These gatherings lend Sama’s script a welcome dose of humor as well as a means to lay out expository material, so that the viewer can more closely experience Lu’s gradual emotional thaw. Part of this process includes awkward meetings with her concerned siblings, none of whom plays a heavy in a film that, interestingly, contains not a single bad person. Unfolding even more slowly is Lu’s decision to pick up her guitar again, as one of her colleagues nudges her to look over a composition written with her in mind. The tipping point toward Lu’s final phase of healing comes with an extended encounter with oceanographer Malik (Gerardo Trejoluna), in a development that a more melodramatic film would have spun into emotional warfare. But in Sama’s gentle hands, it becomes the start of a reconciliation that ends in a third act set in Baja’s stunning Sea of Cortez region. Title refers to Lu’s fantasy that Sebastian is able to see and touch the large whales he was never able to in life; actual filming of whales with actors reps an impressive feat. As in “The Good Herbs,” Pruneda projects a friendly earth-mother presence that, even in the pic’s saddest passages, lends the story a warm glow. Her performance is built on Lu’s step-by-step return to everyday life, and it never feels mannered; her final scene in particular packs an unexpected wallop. Production package is pro but never too slick, though editing of some sluggish middle passages could be sharpened. Pic won a special mention from Morelia’s Mexican competition jury.
A Catatonia Cine presentation in co-production with Te Films/Al Fondo de Callejon. (International sales: Catatonia Cine, Mexico City.) Produced by Sachiko Uzeta, Hari Sama. Directed, written by Hari Sama.
Camera (color), Emiliano Villanueva; editor, Sama, Mario Sandoval; music, Dario Gonzalez; production designer, Maria Paz Gonzalez; sound (Dolby Digital), Pablo Tamez, Pedro Mejia; sound designer, Samuel Larson; animation, Organika; casting, Natalia Beristain, Ursula Pruneda. Reviewed at Morelia Film Festival (competing), Oct. 19, 2011. Running time: 106 MIN.
Ursula Pruneda, Gerardo Trejoluna, Maria del Carmen Farias, Emilio Echevarria, Moises Arizmendi, Maria Deschamps, Emiliano Magana.