Turistas (Alicia Scherson, 2009): Chile

Reviewed by Richard Feilden.  Viewed at the Regent Theater as part of the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival

turistasTuristas is the second film from Chilean director Alicia Scherson, following her 2005 feature Play. While beautifully shot and with a narrative which avoids the common mistake of ladling unnecessary information and background onto the audience, the long, slow second act drags the film down.

Carla (Aline Kuppenheim), her husband says, sets traps for herself. The latest, it turns out, is terminating a pregnancy which, although unplanned, had been mutually agreed upon. She casually drops this bombshell on Joel (Marcelo Alonso) as they are driving across the country for a vacation, a jet-ski bouncing along behind their car. Distraught and confused, Joel abandons her, leaving her luggage at the side of the road while she pees in the bushes. She accepts the hospitality of a sexually confused Swedish boy almost half her age, and ends up in a tent at a camp ground run by a famous ex-pop-singer, while she tries to work out what she really wants from life.

The film is stuffed with self-destructive people, eager to offer their up their unfulfilled lives as an example to the confused Carla. The camp manager has washed away his success and marriage on a wave of alcohol, and his affair with a woman staying at the camp threatens to destroy another family. Even Ulrik (Diego Noguera) her young friend and potential lover, has a series of complex issues to deal with and may be busy forging his own damaging path. Unfortunately, the most interesting character, and the one who has had his issues thrust upon him, rather than creating them for himself, Carla’s husband Joel, is absent for the majority of the film, only returning briefly near the very end. This may sound misogynistic, and out of character for me as I normally bemoan the lack of films with female roles at their center, but I’m afraid that in this case it is unavoidable.

The film’s main flaw is that we spend the meandering middle section in the company of these fairly unlikable people, watching them deceive and use each other. The result, for most of them, seems to be simply another scar on their battered, unrepentant, psyches. Carla’s encounters spread out to include more and more people, but their function seems to be to simply reiterating her issues, while she ignores them, lost in a game boy, or self-pity.

The film is, however, beautifully shot, though its fascination with everything that creeps and crawls in the forest might put off those who aren’t keen on bugs. Careful and creative use of depth of field also keeps things interesting, echoing the self-centered nature of the main characters.

I enjoy films that do not wrap things up nicely and leave everything resolved, but in this case the complete lack of apparent change in Carla left me unsatisfied. It seems that the events of the film have little effect on the self-absorbed protagonist and, with the episodic, disjointed nature of the second act, the film ends up as directionless and confused as the people who inhabit it.

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