The Summer of Flying Fish (El Verano de los Peces Voladores): Cannes Review

El Verano Cannes Directors Fortnight Still - H 2013

El Verano Cannes Directors Fortnight Still - H 2013

Chilly family drama from Chile.  

Dramatic debut by former documentary maker Marcela Said delivers powerful atmosphere in service of thin story.

A bourgeois Chilean family spend summer at their lakeside estate in this atmospheric drama, which is playing in the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes. The narrative feature debut of former documentary director Marcela Said, The Summer of Flying Fish is full of arresting images of Chilean nature – ghostly morning mist, lapping waves, armies of moths, steam-shrouded hot springs. The story is shot through with class and racial friction, but falls short of the angry social polemic or politically charged horror movie hinted at in its pressure-cooker mood and creepy backwoods setting. Further festival bookings seem likely, but the localized context and opaque narrative will be a tough sell to overseas audiences.

The mood is ominous from the start as pet dogs go missing, heavy-handed police harass the indigenous Mapuche population, and locals mutter darkly about mythic monsters stalking the woods. Meanwhile, wealthy landowner Don Francisco (Gregory Cohen) bickers with his rebellious teenage daughter Manena (Francisca Walker), drinks wine, listens to classical music and sneers at the territorial claims of his Mapuche neighbors. When one of his young workers, Pedro (Carlos Cayuqueo), is injured carrying out reckless orders to clear fish from the family lagoon with dynamite, Francesco treats him with cold condescension. A low-level turf war with the locals starts to turn nasty as animals are slaughtered, fences breached and houses torched.

After building up a powerful sense of creeping dread and imminent disaster, The Summer of Flying Fish never quite galvanizes itself into a concrete narrative. Instead it settles into a series of impressionistic tableaux, leaving viewers to infer rather too much from thinly sketched characters and obscure motivations. This is disappointing as Said and her cinematographer Inti Briones clearly share a strong visual eye and a subtle mastery of unsettling mood. But their sophisticated aesthetic deserves to deliver a smarter pay-off message than just another sour insider’s portrait of the indiscreet, charmless bourgeoisie.

Production companies: Cinema DeFacto, Jirafa

Producer: Bruno Bettati

Starring: Francesca Walker, Gregory Cohen, Carlos Cayuqueo, Guillermo Lorca, María Izquierdo     

Director: Marcela Said

Writers: Marcela Said, Julio Rojas

Cinematographer: Inti Briones

Editor: Jean De Certeau

Music:  Edouard Henriquez, Caroline Chaspoul

Sales company: Alpha Violet

Unrated, 95 minutes