As mysterious as the domestic rhythms, ocean tides and imposing cloud formations it captures, assured yet cryptic domestic drama “The Hours Go By” spends one half day with a family on the verge of irreversible change. While Ines de Oliveira Cezar’s impressive second feature shares with fellow Argentine helmer Lucrecia Martel’s “La Cienaga” and “The Holy Girl” the same precise choreography of the seemingly random, “Hours” ticks toward a heartbreaking conclusion with a palpable humanity that will garner it upscale fest invites, arthouse dates, modest ancillary and a certain cult following among those affected by its elusive, memorable spell.
Back home after giving an early Saturday morning piano lesson, Rene (Roxana Berco) shares a tender moment with husband Juan (Guillermo Arengo), after which he plays easily and warmly with their bright 5-year-old, Santiago (Agustin Ignacio Alcoba). During breakfast, couple decides Rene will visit her mother (Mariana Sanchez) in an assisted living facility, while Juan will take young Santi to the beach.
Bulk of pic shifts back and forth between these two seemingly normal excursions. Rene’s mother gradually realizes her daughter may not be entirely happy in the marriage, while Juan and Santi, who clearly enjoy a special bond, visit with a local fisherman on the beach and build sand castles at the windswept seaside. A sudden, life-altering tragedy underscores the need to make every second count in a world of random fate.
“If one knew what’s the time for each thing,” Rene sighs to her mother, and this seems to be Oliveira Cezar’s overarching theme. Punctuated by sublimely framed shots of clouds and waves, helmer has orchestrated a delicate dance of the mundane that will hold some viewers in thrall, while others will be acutely aware of, well, the hours going by.
Each perf feels at once fresh and precisely directed, as do discretely pro tech credits led by Gerardo Silvatici’s gorgeous lensing and brave, minimal score by Martin Pavlovsky that emphasizes breathing sounds but concludes with a lovely piano melody over closing credits. Pic carries dedication “to my children,” further underscoring quietly profound humanism on display.