In the naturalistic drama Thursday Till Sunday, the debut feature from Chilean director Dominga Sotomayor Castillo, a nuclear family on the verge of a nervous breakdown embark on a different kind of vacation from hell. It’s a story ripe for drama despite often being played on screen for comedic value, and while Castillo paints a pretty picture of well acted familial malaise, it’s almost too muted and understated for its own good.
A mother (Paola Giannini) and a father (Francisco Perez-Bannen) set out to the countryside with their daughter (Santi Ahumada) and son (Emiliano Freifeld) to visit a tract of land once owned by his father and to do some camping. He wants to go. She doesn’t. They’re on the verge of separation, but they try to keep it together for the kids along a very lengthy journey there and back.
Drawing very heavily in terms of pacing and composition from mid-period Godard and narratively from Cassavetes, Thursday Till Sunday might be the most deliberately mounted film this year, but there’s something about Castillo’s quieter impulses that don’t really add up to much. At only one point towards the end do either of the parents so much as raise their voices when discussing their current situation. For the most part, the elephant in the room is strenuously ignored at all costs. Even the impending break up is dealt with quietly and swiftly off the top. It’s an ambitious and artful approach, but it never fully yields what’s being put in.
Focusing predominantly on the banality of a road trip, Castillo packs the film with asides about picking up teenage hitchhikers, awkward run ins with former acquaintances at gas stations, playing guessing games in the car, stealing fruit and getting shot at, stopping off to swim and sunbathe, and while they all look gorgeous, they aren’t really informing or reinforcing anything. They’re just there to pad the running time. Nothing profound or even really all that thoughtful happens even upon a close reading. The only thing noticeable in any of these situations is the distance the mother keeps from everyone around her. In that respect, Castillo’s film is a really rough film to sit through, and after a second watch it doesn’t get any easier. Even when the film reaches its destination, there are similar asides that feel realistic, but aren’t really that stimulating to watch unfold. And after that, the film gets to its most lively section on the way back.
That lack of stimulus might be one of the reasons the partnership is dissolving, but it’s also why Castillo wisely places the focus on the two children rather than always on the parents. It ultimately pays off in the film’s final 40 minutes thanks to a wonderfully restrained and thoughtful performance from first time actress Ahumada, who seems to grasp the film’s ultimate tragedy quite well. Similarly, her parents are well cast and delivering great work, but it’s hard not to wish that they had more to do or that their backstories are so obtuse that they practically don’t exist.
Castillo’s film is voyeuristic and prying in practice and tone, but while it’s properly executed there isn’t much there to warrant a close examination that would reveal any sort of truth. I hate calling a movie striving for realism dull, but there’s no other real word to describe the experience when it’s only intermittently interesting. There’s a lot to like and Ahumada is a talent to definitely keep an eye on in the future, but unless you want to sit through 96 minutes of people quietly resigning themselves to their eventual fates there’s not much to really pick apart here.