Huacho -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

PARIS -- Twenty-four hours in the life of a Chilean peasant family is not an obvious recipe for movie entertainment, but taken on its own terms, Alejandro Fernandez Alemandras' debut feature, "Huacho," is a success that will find plenty of admirers on the festival circuit. Its minimalist style and lack of dramatic action mean that its commercial prospects are pretty much zero.

The family in question comprises two grandparents in their mid-70s, Cornelio and Clemira, their daughter Alejandra and her preteen son Manuel. Each has his day in the late-summer sun. The day begins with the movie's sole significant event: They wake up to find that the electricity has been cut off. Alemandras first follows Clemira through her day as she collects the milk, uses it to make cheese, then travels to the highway where she stands selling the cheeses to passing motorists.

He then runs through the day again from the point of view of Alejandra as she performs her cooking and cleaning duties for a wealthy landowner, then travels to the nearest big town, Chillan (the director's home-town), to pay the electricity bill, and returns home.

Next up is Manuel, who goes to school and hangs out with a group of bigger and better-off boys -- one of whom dismisses him with a cheerily contemptuous "Bye, peasant" -- and finally Cornelio, whom we follow into the fields where he chops trees, sets up a fence, lunches on some corn on the cob and takes a nap in the sun. The old man returns home, stopping off for a beer on the way, and the movie's happy ending is the electricity being turned back on just as night falls.

Alemandras appears bent on proving the truth of Flaubert's dictum that everything is interesting if you observe it closely enough. The characters act out their daily lives, in which nothing much happens, with long tracking shots focusing usually on their faces.

The word "huacho" means orphan, and the director's theme is the growing dislocation between peasant values and the demands of globalization. But he never labors the point, and though the family is clearly desperately poor, there is no wallow in all things miserable that the subject usually triggers in films. Discerning audiences will be won over by the director's sincerity, restraint and constant sense of his characters' dignity.

Production companies: Charivari Films, Jirafa Films
Sales: Films Distribution
Cast: Clemira Aguayo, Alejandra Yanez, Cornelio Villagran, Manuel Hernarndez
Director: Alejandro Fernandez Alemandras
Screenwriter: Alejandro Fernandez Alemandras
Photography: Inti Briones
Editor: Sebastien de Sainte Croix
Production design: Beatriz Carillo

No MPAA rating, 89 minutes