|Andrés (Santiago Cabrera) in The Life of Fish.|
By John Esther
When he was younger, Andrés (Santiago Cabrera) had close friends, a special girl named Bea (Blanca Lewin) and a general sense of communal security. But that was more than 10 years ago. Andrés is now 33, living abroad, working around the world as a travel writer and living a life of noncommittal relationships – most likely constantly communicating in a language not his first (or theirs).
In general, Andrés probably enjoys his modus vivendi, but when the expatriate returns home, what he left behind drowns him in a seductive/reductive whirlpool of remorse and regretful moments.
Set in near-real time, and shot in a singular Santiago, Chilé home, Andrés attends a birthday party he is already trying to leave as the film starts. Yet, there is no exit. Other people, at least the memories associated with them, are heaven and hell. As Andrés meets aged persons of times past, he realizes how different his life has become from those he knew when he was young. They have kids, he has travel plans. They live where they grew up whereas he currently resides in Berlin, Germany. Their narratives continue to grow together as his is a monologue signifying a lack of lifetime companionship. He has spread up and out; they have sprawled sideways.
While many moments pang the life and losses of Andrés' heart, nothing seems to hurt him more – even more than the death of a dear mutual friend – than letting Bea go. He wants her back and maybe she wants him, too, but life's grand amorous opportunities are precious few.
Suggesting we all live inside our own aquariums -- at varying, accreting external levels -- writer-director Matías Bize's exquisite film also manages to summon the interior emotions of his characters. The power of suggestion found in The Life of Fish sometimes reaches Bressonian heights, only Bize uses the faces of some good, and good looking, actors to convey that which is not being said, but is definitely present. And the moment flees.
A fine film in general, Chilé's recent Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film will particularly poke (pain?) those who have traveled the more unfamiliar roads, whereupon you left behind the spaces people still dear to you continue to dwell in and maintain within and without you.