It’s not easy to communicate when you’re family, and Chilean director Cristián Jiménez finds a compelling way to illustrate that in Voice Over (La Voz en Off). Though only his second feature, the director reveals a more natural, earthy style compared to his still quite marvelous feature debut Bonsái. With his 2011 film, adapted from the novel by Alejandro Zambra, the narrative jumped back and forth through time in a sometimes disorienting manner that paid off by film’s end. Though a bit of a departure for the filmmaker, he has produced no less compelling a film with Voice Over, which follows various narrative streams as it examines the dynamics of an extended family.
Anchoring the story are two adult sisters, Sofia (Ingrid Isensee) and Ana (María José Siebald), deeply entrenched in a passive-aggressive rivalry. Ana is married with an infant child, Sofia divorced with two children, Roman and Alicia, ages approximately 8 and 10. Sofia works from home as a voice over actress and needs her kids to not only turn on her equipment but also read text messages from their father because she has taken a “disconnection vow.” Ana has moved back home from France, as her new French husband needs financial assistance while he works on translating a book. Meanwhile, the sisters’ mother (Paulina García) and father (Cristián Campos) have entered a tumultuous period in their 35-year-old relationship. He wants to take a break from the marriage and uses the same explanation Sofia used to explain the dissolution of her marriage: “It’s like food that has been left out of the refrigerator to rot.” Sofia takes umbrage, ordering him not to tell that to anyone because they will all think she gave him the idea to separate.
Voice Over is filled with humor that feeds off that special emotional baggage that only comes with years of family life. It never feels like these relatives are at the others’ throats. A profound — though often turbulent — love still permeates their behavior. The film walks a nice tightrope of affection and rivalry among these loved ones. Appropriately, it’s more primal between Sophia’s children. The two play “teacher,” which the mother encourages. In this game, Alicia helps her little brother learn to read. However, when the adults are not looking, she relishes the opportunity to “punish” her little brother when he mispronounces words with smack to the head that smashes his face into the book. This dichotomy manifests itself in more subtle ways between family members in often hilarious, familiar ways.
The performances have a warm, natural quality, reflected by the film’s distant, omniscient handheld camera work by Inti Briones. Jiménez, who co-wrote the scrip with Daniel Castro, is more interested in the family unit and its dynamics rather than focusing on personal, emotional issues. It’s the chemistry of the players that keep the film funny and interesting from start to finish. The movie’s title also works better in its native language, as the film shows great interest in how the family communicates through behavior, from the physicality of the children to the passive aggressive rivalry between the sisters. Sofia and Ana also gossip about rumors of what their father may have done to upset the status of the family, reflecting on what appears to be incriminating early retirement and rumors of sexual harassment or that he might be gay. The drama is all about ghosts and baggage, and as we learn by the film’s end, nothing is ever as complex and banal as the truth.
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Though I have seen four films since my previous post (Day 1 of film going at Miami International Film Fest: a test of the preposterous), Voice Over is the only film I can write about, for now. It was a lovely movie and should see a return to theaters in the States some time later this year, as it will be distributed by Outsider Pictures. In the past two days, I have attended three screenings as a juror for the Jordan Alexander Ressler Screenwriter Award. I cannot comment on those films. However, it’s interesting to note that Voice Over‘s director won the prize at the 2012 Miami International Film Festival for Bonsái. So far, the films the jury has seen includes Cut Snake, from Australia; Love at First Fight (Les combattants), a Florida premiere from France; and 3 Beauties, a North American premiere from Venezuela. Monday afternoon, I also sat down with the director of Posthumous, Lulu Wang, a graduate of Miami’s New World School of the Arts, for an article that will appear shortly in the Miami New Times. That film is having its North American premiere at the festival on March 13. I’ll leave you with the trailer:
The Miami International Film Festival provided a preview screener for Voice Over for the purpose of this review.