Family disputes can be ephemeral things, with hot-headed fury often dissolving into apologetic embraces before the terms of the argument even become clear. Between these turnarounds, life doesn’t always give you quite enough time to say what needs to be said, whether in love or in anger. That fragile changeability of family life is beautifully and painfully captured in “This Time Tomorrow,” a deceptively slight-looking, quietly resonant sophomore feature from Colombian-Canadian writer-director Lina Rodriguez. Charting the daily ups and downs of a middle-class household in Bogotá, the film alludes in its very title to the unpredictability of domestic mood swings — before the family in question is less reversibly riven by tragedy. Piquantly observed by filmmakers and cast alike, “Tomorrow” has a bright future on the festival circuit, with specialist distribution potential enhanced by its universal relatability.
In a film otherwise short on surplus stylistic flourishes, Rodriguez bookends her largely interior story with patient, unbroken shots of nature at rest: a venerable thick-trunked tree beside a felled sapling in a forest, and afternoon clouds drifting languidly above the treetops. The audience is free to determine (or possibly over-determine) the symbolic properties of these images, but at their simplest level, the constancy they represent stands in stark contrast to the shifting, fractious feelings within the household at the film’s center; the implied adage that “life goes on” comes to seem crueller as this thoroughly everyday story unfolds.
Unsurprisingly, the most dramatic emotional surges and switches in the narrative are conducted by a teenager: 17-year-old only child Adelaida (Laura Osma, making a riveting big-screen debut), a bright, forthright young beauty getting to grips with her sexuality, with all the enmeshed petulance, outward confidence and inner insecurity that goes with the age. Her loving but beleaguered parents, art teacher Francisco (Francisco Zaldua) and party planner Lena (Maruia Shelton), get the full brunt of her capricious hormones, as she alternately rails against them for impinging on her freedom and needily wheedles favors out of them using casual emotional blackmail. (“Do it because you love me,” is a recurring negotiation strategy, said with the cheeky smirk of a child knowingly testing their limits.)
Rodriguez has a marvelously perceptive eye (or, more crucially, ear) for the ways in which the pettiest disagreements and disobediences can escalate into full-blown domestic battlefields: A breezy reminder to take the trash out can become about something else entirely, particularly in a family where other, gradually uncovered tensions are coursing beneath the surface. Adelaida may be the locus of the film’s drama, but the conflicts she starts occasionally expose hairline cracks in her parents’ marriage, a loving but unequal arrangement in which Lena appears over-burdened with domestic responsibility.
As a result, Adelaida perhaps inadvertently reserves her bitterest ire for her mother; when she snarkily mutters at Lena, “I’m sorry your life doesn’t work,” her words might cut deeper than she intends. One cut later, however, the two are amiably cleaning the bathroom together. It’s unclear how much time has passed, but the film’s clean, incisive editing — courtesy of Rodriguez and her co-producer Brad Deane — repeatedly evokes the day-to-day flips in mood familiar to adolescent-ruled houses.
It’s with a more protracted editorial gambit — a long, deliberate fade to and from black midway through the film — that the tenor of proceedings alters more drastically, as a devastating event forces the reeling family to restructure its roles and lines of communication. The film’s visual palette takes a hit too, with several characters quite literally turning away from the light; cinematographer Alejandro Coronado’s HD camera scrutinizes characters’ faces for expressive cues in duskily underlit rooms.
At no point, however, does Rodriguez’s down-to-the-bone script succumb to overt melodrama or miserablism: There’s tangy wit even to its unhappiest exchanges, while momentous misfortune is often leavened with comforting banalities. Gradually, “This Time Tomorrow” casts its gaze beyond the tight domestic unit at its center. Adelaida’s active, near-adult social life regains its balance and asserts its independence; other friends, relatives and children step in to fill, if only temporarily, vacated domestic space. It’s hard not to laugh when an incensed parent, lecturing their privacy-seeking teen, yells, “You won’t close this door again,” before involuntarily slamming it themselves; at its best moments, this modest but wise film can play like an entirely straight-faced sitcom.