You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes Film Review: ‘The Summer of Flying Fish’

Docu helmer Marcela Said creates a challenging fiction/nonfiction hybrid that’s stylistically neither fish nor fowl

Francisca Walker, Gregory Cohen, Maria Izquierdo, Roberto Cayuqueo, Bastian Bodenhofer, Paola Lattus, Emilia Lara, Guillermo Lorca.

In “The Summer of Flying Fish,” Chilean docu director Marcela Said makes a subtle shift into scripted drama, shaping scenes of tension between white landowners and the local Mapuche natives so as to seem unrehearsed. Said’s technique blends flashes of melodrama with such naturalistic choices as shooting on location and working mostly with non-actors, resulting in a challenging fiction/nonfiction hybrid that’s stylistically neither fish nor fowl. From a festival programmer’s perspective, “Summer” is a dream offering: a refined, politically conscious film by a female director that reveals a seldom-seen social dynamic. In commercial spheres, however, it should be a much harder sell.

Turning a contempo lens on a conflict that dates back to America’s first conquistadores, the slender narrative centers on a difference of philosophy between European-descended landowners and South American natives, who believe they belong to the land, rather than vice versa. Generations later, wealthy white men have built vacation homes on what had traditionally been the hunting and fishing grounds of the local Mapuche people, resulting in acts of protest that Said feels have been underrepresented in the media.

This film marks her attempt to address that injustice. As Said’s camera plunges through the mist into the primeval forests of central Chile, the implication seems to be that secrets will soon be revealed. As it turns out, one must be not just vigilant but also relatively well versed in the local conflicts to make sense of a film that relies almost entirely on subtext.

Though her intention is clearly to raise audience awareness about the way the Mapuche have been mistreated by their white neighbors, forced into lowly service roles (such as nannies, maids, bodyguards and servants) and rendered poachers on their ancestors’ former domain, Said often downplays the central conflict between these two classes. To call her script underwritten would be to miss the point: It’s almost as though what truly matters has been written underneath the scenes that exist. Instead of describing the problem, she wants audiences to feel it.

So, while the natives’ resentment slowly comes to a boil, the lean plot pretends to care whether wealthy landowner Pancho (Gregory Cohen) can kill the out-of-control carp population in his private lake, oblivious to the insult his wastefulness signifies to the locals. Meanwhile, the frequent sight of dead fish becomes a metaphor for a situation in which the privileged class has more than it knows how to use. In one unsettling scene, the Mapuche uncover dozens of carp buried under loosely turned soil. Said withholds their faces but bottles the tension, letting it build as the film unfolds — and an accidental shooting finally provokes a reaction.

Presented mostly in wide shots, the film strives for a certain objectivity, what one might call an “upstream/downstream” model wherein Pancho’s family and his help are caught in private yet not especially dramatic moments. Whether peering from the backseat of the family SUV to see a drunken Mapuche passed out in the dark or hovering like a horror-movie watcher in the woods over teenage daughter Manena (Francisca Walker), the camera placements tend to amplify the unease, an effect compounded by Alexander Zekke’s score.

In perhaps its only gesture toward conventionality, “Summer” serves as a coming-of-age tale for Manena, bearing witness as she flirts with a young man who later betrays her — a first taste of the complicated adult world she already inhabits, but remains too naive still to realize. In a movie of astounding subtlety, this upended romance offers the closest thing to not only a storyline but an emotional connection.

Popular on Variety

Cannes Film Review: 'The Summer of Flying Fish'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 20, 2013. Running time: 85 MIN. Original title: "El verano de los peces voladores"

Production: (Chile-France) A Jirafa, Cinema Defacto production in association with Kino-Imagenes, L90 Cine Digital with the support of Corfo, Consejo National de la Cultura y Artes, Direccion de Asuntos Culturales, Min. Relaciones Exteriores, Gobierno de Chile, Fonds Sud Cinema, Ministere de la Culture et la Communication, CNC, Institut Francais, Arte, Cofinova 9. (International sales: Alpha Violet, Paris.) Produced by Bruno Bettati, Tom Dercourt, Sophie Ebbs. Executive producer, Augusto Matte.

Crew: Directed by Marcela Said. Screenplay, Said, Julio Rojas. Camera (color, widescreen), Inti Briones; editor, Jean de Certeau; music, Alexander Zekke; production designer, Angela Torti; costume designer, Monica Cortes; sound, Jean-Guy Veran; sound designer, Olivier Dandre, Nicolas Leroy; line producer, Jose Luis Rivas; assistant director, Liu Marino; casting, Paula Leoncini.

With: Francisca Walker, Gregory Cohen, Maria Izquierdo, Roberto Cayuqueo, Bastian Bodenhofer, Paola Lattus, Emilia Lara, Guillermo Lorca.

More Film

  • Charlize Theron

    Charlize Theron Says 'Bombshell' Doesn't Shy Away From Sexual Harassment Scenes

    Charlize Theron, in conversation with Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”) for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors,” discussed why she thinks “Bombshell” director Jay Roach is brave for including moments of silence in the film. Theron said the movie doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable scenes of sexual harassment. “Obviously, there is the moment [of silence] in the [...]

  • Edher Campos, Jana Díaz and Pau

    Machete, Amplitud, Cine Sud, Peripheria Team on Cecchetti’s ‘Tarahumara’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Pau Brunet and Jana Díaz Juhl at L.A.-based Amplitud have boarded Federico Cecchetti’s sophomore feature “Journey to the Land of the Tarahumara,” produced by Edher Campos at Mexico’s Machete Producciones in co-production with Yanick Letourneau’s Quebec-based Périphéria (Juan Andrés Arango García’s “V-500”) and Thierry Lenouvel’s Paris-based Cine-Sud (Rubén Mendoza’s “Wandering Girl”). Mexico’s Eficine production fund [...]

  • Shari Redstone: ViacomCBS 'Can Compete With

    Shari Redstone: ViacomCBS 'Can Compete With the Best of Them'

    Shari Redstone is emphatic: ViacomCBS has plenty of resources and the scale to compete in the new world order for media giants. “We absolutely have enough scale,” Redstone said Friday morning during her Q&A held as part of the Paley Center for Media’s  International Council Summit in New York. “We have an incredible library. We [...]

  • Gaston-Pavlovich-and-Jesus-Esquivel

    Gaston Pavlovich Buys 'El Chapo' Guzman Court Case Thriller ‘The Trial,’ ‘Narcos Gringos’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    LOS CABOS, Mexico  —  Gaston Pavlovich, producer of “The Irishman,” has swooped on two prime IPs, “El Juicio” (The Trial”), a privileged-access account of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s New York court case, and “Los Narcos Gringos,” a portrait of U.S. drug runners. The two non-fiction works are both written by Washington-based Jesus Esquivel, whom Pavlovich [...]

  • Adam Driver and Charlize Theron Actors

    Charlize Theron and Adam Driver on Why Acting 'Forces You to Be Empathetic'

    Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”) and Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”) sat down for a chat for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” For more, click here.  Charlize Theron enters this year’s Oscar race with “Bombshell,” a docudrama about the sexual harassment scandal at Fox News. Theron plays a morally complicated Megyn Kelly, suffering the personal consequences of becoming [...]

  • Juliette Binoche Slack Bay

    Juliette Binoche Joins Macao Festival's Talent Array

    Leading French actress Juliette Binoche is set to attend the fourth edition of the International Film Festival & Awards Macao as a talent ambassador. She is expected to be the subject of an on-stage conversation event and also attend the special presentation of “The Truth,” Hirokazu Kore-eda’s first film set outside Japan and not in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content