Oscar Godoy’s first narrative feature, “Ulysses,” channels the dislocation of a solitary emigre who, like many in recent years, has left his native Peru to improve his family’s lot working in more economically prosperous, less politically turbulent Chile. Refusal to reveal the character’s backstory — or even fully explain his current circumstances — intrigues at first, but eventually becomes a self-defeating exercise in mannered minimalism. Nonetheless, the pic is accomplished enough to attract further fest attention, though its commercial prospects even in relevant South American markets will be slight.
Thirtyish Julio (Jorge Roman, of “La Leon” and “El Bonaerense”) is first seen groggily regaining consciousness with a bleeding scalp on a downtown Santiago sidewalk (just what happened to him is never explained), then traipsing off despite bystanders who urge him to remain still and wait for help. His apparently minor wound is stitched up at a clinic, but he leaves there, too, when asked to fill out a release form.
He’s staying at the condo of a young family who are either relatives or family friends (another ambiguous point), sleeping on their sofa bed while job-hunting and frequently talking to his apparently ailing mother back home via calling card. He does find employment as a janitor at a mall, then in a slaughterhouse. It’s only later that we discover Julio was a history teacher whose emigration necessitated these grunt-labor jobs. The possibility that he’s left a romance behind is just briefly hinted at — here, he has an interlude with a prostitute and dates a flighty record-store clerk (Francisca Gavilan), but seems disinterested in sex.
Eventually the situation at his yuppie hosts’ condo becomes untenable, partly because their chubby teenage daughter is rather shameless about her crush on him, so Julio quietly leaves in favor of quarters that are at least private, if dank.
Given a couple of demonstrations of his considerable knowledge and intellect, it doesn’t make much sense that Julio would spend so much time simply walking the semi-dangerous nighttime urban streets — wouldn’t he read during at least some of his idle hours? Pic is often over-focused on scenes that convey the protag’s rudderlessness but reveal little in and of themselves. With no lingering narrative questions answered, fadeout is a shrug-off.
Nonetheless, Roman proves one of those actors who can hold interest in a near one-man show despite the thinnest support from dialogue, characterization and narrative development. Inti Briones’ HD lensing of mostly cold, anonymous Santiago locations highlights an able tech/design package.