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Elisa, vida mía

Posted by martinteller on January 15, 2014

Elisa (Geraldine Chaplin) is going to see her father Luis (Fernando Rey) for the first time in nine years, along with her sister Isabel (Isabel Mestres), brother-in-law Julian (Joaquin Hinojosa) and their children.  Luis left the family many years ago, abandoning the children and their mother (also Chaplin).  After a brief but pleasant visit, Isabel and her family must depart, but Elisa decides to stay on for a few more days.  She is happy to be away from her husband Antonio (Norman Briski), who has been cheating with her best friend.  As Elisa and Luis spend time together, Elisa discovers that he is writing his life story… or is it hers?

This is an odd little film from Carlos Saura, following the time/identity bending he did in his previous two movies, La prima Angélica and Cría Cuervos.  In fact, it even repeats casting from the latter, with Chaplin playing both herself and her mother, and Ana Torrent playing the younger version of herself (albeit only in a couple of very brief scenes).  It’s hard to say exactly what it’s about.  There is an odd — but not disorientingly odd — duality at play.  Luis’s cramped cabin exists in a wide open space, feeling both constrained and free.  The relationship between Elisa and her father is both comfortable and distant.  They have a kind of symbiosis going on.  In the opening scene, we hear voiceover in Ray’s voice but describing a viewpoint that we later learn is Elisa’s.  And when we see Elisa reading his writing, it’s her voice speaking his viewpoint… which at times is a recreation of her own viewpoint.  Other instances blur the boundaries between their identities.  When we see a quick scene of Rey and Chaplin having an intimate embrace, is it the father fantasizing about the daughter?  Vice versa?  Is it an echo from the past, Luis and his wife?

And yet, this isn’t like some sort of Spanish Persona, where we cease to see where one person begins and the other ends.  It is more casual.  Not playful, but casual.  It feels like an extension of a theme, but the theme is elusive.  It’s hard to say exactly what it’s “about” and yet I wouldn’t call it confusing.  As I said, it’s an odd little film.  But it’s built out of scenes that are insightful and revealing and beautiful.  As one expects from a Saura film, the photography is lovely, with a feel that often recalls the old masters, these gorgeous diffused shafts of light and classical compositions.  Rey and Chaplin are both in excellent form as always.  The repeated use of Satie on the soundtrack is evocative.

I wish I had more to say.  It feels like a film that needs to be seen a couple of times to really dig into.  But after the first viewing, I found it poetic and intriguing, though also a bit too elusive to truly satisfy.  Rating: Very Good (82)


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