Film Review: Turistas

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Biologist-turned-filmmaker Alicia Scherson presents a beguiling range of specimens for our inspection in her low-key charmer "Turistas," the 34-year-old Chilean's eagerly-awaited follow-up to 2006's "Play." That offbeat Santiago love story won prizes at festivals from Tribeca and Montreal to Karlovy Vary and Kawaguchi. "Turistas" will likewise check-in at numerous destinations around the festival circuit.

While perhaps too small-scale for art house distribution in the current gloomy economic climate, its sun-dappled visuals and likably quirky atmosphere provide a timely helping of escapism.

"Getting away from it all" is exactly what Carla (Kupperheim) and Joel (Alonso) -- a city-dwelling couple in their late 30s -- have in mind as the film begins, motoring towards their seaside resort-holiday. But a sudden revelation from Carla sends Joel into an emotional tailspin, exposing the relationships' simmering discontents.

A distraught Joel drives off, leaving his wife stranded at roadside. She thumbs a lift and, after impulsively hooking up with 20-ish Norwegian backpacker Ulrik (Noguera), ends up at the Siete Tazas national park. Seeking direction at a crossroads in her life, the ever-hesitant Carla (who typically answers questions with "yes -- no -- I don't know") finds guidance and inspiration from the park's various inhabitants.

Indeed, Scherson and her heroine seem equally taken with the trees, birds and insects of the nature-reserve: There are more than passing shades of Terrence Malick in numerous shots of feathered and/or scaly critters going about their business amid swaying branches and rock-pools.

Reteaming with Scherson after "Play," veteran cinematographer Ricardo de Angelis works quiet wonders with vivid high-definition digital video. Another returnee is editor Soledad Salfate, who excels with a pair of deftly cut sequences (one involving the pitching of a tent, the other Clara's discovery of a highway construction-site) that exemplify the picture's droll brand of humor.

Though perhaps a little overlong, and arguably a touch too delicate for some palates, "Turistas" -- a southern-hemisphere cousin to Ulrich Koehler's German variant "Windows on Monday" -- manages to quietly create, sustain and develop its own little world, one in which we are as much the tourists of the title as the main characters.

Crucial to its success is Kupperheim, who had a key supporting role in "Play" and graduates smoothly to center stage here. She makes what could easily have been a frustrating and/or annoying character into an intriguing and ultimately sympathetic presence, guiding us nimbly through Clara's external and internal journeys.

Production companies: La Ventura Ltda. & Paraiso Production Diffusion
Cast: Aline Kupperheim, Diego Noguera, Marcelo Alonso, Pablo Ausensi, Viviana Herrera, Sofia Gildrez
Director: Alicia Scherson
Screenwriter: Alicia Scherson
Producer: Macarena Lopez
Director of photography: Ricardo de Angelis
Music: Philippe Boisier
Editor: Soledad Salfate
Sales Agent: La Ventura, Santiago, Chile
No rating, 104 minutes