"Thursday Till Sunday"

in 24th Toulouse Latin American Film Festival

by Alison Frank

Thursday till Sunday (De Jueves a Domingo), the debut feature of director Dominga Sotomayor, is set in Chile, and follows a family road trip lasting (as the title suggests) from Thursday to Sunday. The father of the family is set to inherit a piece of land from his own father, and wants to visit the property to decide what to do with it: set up an avocado plantation, perhaps. He asks his wife Ana to come along, and they bring along their two children: Manuel, an active boy of about 6, and a quieter girl of about 10 named Lucía.

The film does what it promises to: accompanies the family from their comfortable middle-class home to their destination, a tract of land in the desert. While the scenery may be foreign to viewers outside South America, in other respects the family car trip is like so many others taking place across the world: the children get bored, and the parents take part in games to keep them entertained. The children’s reactions are so familiar and natural that they made the audience laugh out loud. Strangely, the brother and sister don’t get into a single fight, and there is only one cry of ‘no fair!’ in the whole film. Instead, it is the parents whose disagreements simmer below the surface, coming to a head near the film’s end.

Thursday till Sunday does not exploit parental discord for drama excessively: it is a subtle current, which the audience observes from the same position as the children. The film’s main drawback, in fact, is that sharing the children’s point of view may leave the audience feeling frustrated at the lack of clear information. Like most parents, Lucía’s and Manuel’s want to protect their children as much as possible from adult problems. When Ana needs to discuss the delicate issue of their light—fingered housekeeper, she speaks to her husband in English. Lucía, instantly aware of her mother’s efforts at secrecy, pricks up her ears and ends up understanding perfectly what is going on. In a later scene where the children are allowed to ride on the roof of the car, strapped atop the baggage, there is a beautiful shot of Lucía’s unusual perspective as she glances through the windscreen and sees her parents’ angry faces, upside down, as they take advantage of the chance to air their grievances.

It is through observation rather than dialogue, then, that Lucía, as the older and more pensive child, understands that there are problems between her parents. When they make their first stop at a filling station, Ana is delighted to run into an old friend, also on a road trip with his son. Lucía instinctively runs away from this intrusive and threatening presence, and her father is also hostile to the idea of meeting up again along the way, complaining that it will cramp his style. Ana is similarly unenthusiastic when, shortly afterwards, her husband stops for two sexy young hitchhikers. Squashed in the back seat with them, Lucía eagerly asks the girls about their lives, and exchanges e—mail addresses, seeing them as role models rather than a threat. Later in the film, the family runs into Ana’s old friend again; they end up sharing a campsite, and Lucía looks on with suspicion at her mother’s intimate conversations with her old friend.

While the film is both intriguing and frustrating on a narrative level, aesthetically it is very impressive. Sotomayor has a talent for translating the child’s experience of the world, where the physical dimension of existence vies with the intellectual in a world that is still full of new experiences. In this respect, the film is reminiscent of Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy, which captured the intimacy of family life so beautifully. While Sciamma’s film was confined to a suburban apartment and the surrounding neighbourhood, Sotomayor works with the vaster canvas of the Chilean countryside. In some places, the road is bordered by gigantic boulders that look like they have been dropped from space. Further on, scrubby white desert stretches as far as the eye can see. The film manages to communicate the complete atmosphere: the white light, the lazy heat, the dust, and the element of threat in this extreme environment. While there are many moments of pleasure on the trip, the landscape also frequently mirrors the feeling of lethargy, oppression and danger associated with breakdown of the parents’ marriage.

What is most striking and original in Thursday till Sunday, though, is Sotomayor’s division of space into two distinct layers. The technique is established from the film’s opening shot, where the camera is placed behind the decorative grille of an open window. On the side nearest the camera, a child is sleeping; in the background, on the other side of the grille, is the courtyard of the family home, where the parents are packing the car to prepare for departure. In later scenes, Lucía is filmed through the glass of the car window or a roadside café, in order to simultaneously show the character and the action taking place opposite her (objects and people passing by). The most common layering of space, though, is inside the car itself, with the usual arrangement of parents in front, kids in the back. The parents may look back at will to see how their children are doing, but the children aren’t able to look at their parents’ faces with the same ease, giving the parents a small degree of secrecy. In essence, then, Sotomayor’s stylistic choice is motivated by both narrative and thematic concerns. In terms of narrative, it reflects the two levels of action in the film: the children’s play and the parents’ disagreements. Thematically, it reflects the division between the world of adults and children, and, ultimately, between husband and wife in a disintegrating relationship.