The contained atmosphere of a weekend family car trip becomes a site for subtle tensions that gradually affect the 10-year-old protag in Dominga Sotomayor’s strong feature debut, “Thursday Through Sunday.” Unabashedly part of an indie aesthetic that favors tightly controlled lensing and indirect thematic development, the pic says and conveys more substance with a seemingly casual glance than most action-packed vehicles. Fests are bound to pounce, though arthouse sales may be a tall order; streaming sites should also draw viewers.Dawn’s light almost makes an appearance through the bedroom window of young Lucia (Santi Ahumada), as a fixed camera looks out on a car being packed up for a long road trip. When Ana (Paola Giannini) asks hubby Fernando (Francisco Perez-Bannen) if he’s sure he wants her to go, it’s clear this is a couple heading for splitsville. The goal of this little family vacation, which also includes son Manuel (Emiliano Freifeld), 7, is to find a small parcel of land purchased long ago by Fernando’s father. While this constitutes the itinerary, the trip itself becomes a kind of long farewell to life as a unified family, largely seen through Lucia’s eyes. Mom and Dad don’t speak directly to each other much, and their tightened silences create a strained atmosphere inside the car, though the parents aren’t aware of how it affects the kids. Over a weekend that includes camping out or sleeping in roadside motels, they have a “chance” rendezvous with single father Juan (Jorge Becker), resulting in further tension when it becomes obvious that Ana’s mood lifts whenever he’s around. This is a film of little gestures and brief looks, caught almost as if by chance by Barbara Alvarez’s perspicacious camera, and it’s the accumulation of small incidents that give “Thursday” its power. Early scenes hinting at death mislead more than set a tone, but otherwise Sotomayor’s instincts are sure, capturing the little asides parents use to communicate when their kids are around, not realizing how much is actually being picked up in the backseat. It’s not a question of words but atmosphere, and the helmer’s delicate handling of her superb child actors (remarkably, both are first-timers) enable a wellspring of uncertain emotions to float to the surface. In Sotomayor’s talented hands, childhood is captured in all its conflicting moods, with an uneven combination of impatience, excitement, insecurity, freedom and dependence. The helmer’s decision to shoot on Super 16 allows for a pleasing tactility that’s well-suited not just to the claustrophobic family intimacy within the car but to the barren, seemingly limitless landscapes they drive through. Alvarez (“The Headless Woman”) can hold a shot for an impressive length of time without making it feel merely like a fashionably artsy choice, yet there’s also variety in the lensing, and a considered use of the contrasts between what’s inside the car and outside the windows.
A Forastero, Cinestacion, Circe Films production. (International sales: Figa Films, Los Angeles.) Produced by Benjamin Domenach, Gregorio Gonzalez. Co-producer, Stienette Bosklopper. Directed, written by Dominga Sotomayor.
Camera (color, Super 16-to-35mm), Barbara Alvarez; editors, Danielle Filios, Catalina Marin; music, Diego Fontecilla, Elisa Arteche; production designer, Estefania Larrain; costume designer, Juana Diaz; sound (Dolby SR), Roberto Espinoza, Claudio Vargas. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (competing), Jan. 27, 2012. Running time: 92 MIN.
Santi Ahumada, Emiliano Freifeld, Francisco Perez-Bannen, Paola Giannini, Jorge Becker, Axel Dupre. (Spanish dialogue)