A film whose mysteries aren’t revealed until the end, Victor Cubillos’ sneaky “31st of April” appears to be 17-year-old Cristian’s personal docu about his dead brother Victor and the people who best knew him. If something feels off from the beginning, starting with the title, the keen-eyed viewer may pick up on what’s going on here. Whether or not this gets in the way of enjoying this postmodern work is up for debate, which pic is sure to stir on its world travels.
Despite some underlying narrative devices, the film’s true nature is hardly evident in the early phases,
in which Cristian — still devastated by Victor’s sudden death in his expat home of Berlin — announces he wants to better understand his older brother by embarking on a video diary/docu profiling the key friends and loved ones in Victor’s life.
At first, shooting is predictably erratic and barely viewable, while teetering on the banal. Cubillos risks losing the viewer entirely, but he gradually presents a family with some real characters, including brother Leonardo (Leonardo Cubillos), a quirky anthropologist whose work is about to take him to New Zealand. Middle brother Tomas (Tomas Cubillos) is even more separated from the clan, globe-trotting as a much-in-demand male model.
Cristian assembles a foggy and possibly unsatisfying portrait of Victor, though he gets some of his best material from goofy action shorts Victor made with his buddies as a youth, exemplifying the enormous impact of Hollywood blockbusters on Chilean kids. After doubting the purpose of Cristian’s project, father Manuel (Manuel Cubillos) unexpectedly does a 180, and offers to take him to Berlin to meet and film Victor’s closest friends. Such a moment plays too artificially for the film’s purposes.
Berlin sequences punch things up considerably, showing what it’s like for a Latin American man in exile in today’s Europe, while also portraying Berlin as the continent’s friendliest and most open city. A startling passage dealing with terrorism recasts what preceded it from a new perspective, turning”31st of April” poignant if a tad manipulative.
The resulting hall-of-mirrors effect can be viewed in some respects as the helmer’s tribute to fellow Chilean master Raul Ruiz, but the raw video quality of the shooting and sound is far removed from Ruiz’s cinema.