When I told a movie buff friend of mine I would be attending SFIFF, I asked him if there were any movies he thought I should pay attention to. Among the films he listed, he mentioned Alejandro Chomski’s Asleep in the Sun saying ,”the Argentines often start with artiness and inexplicably end up with real art.” I’m surprised as how well that description fits the film.
The setting is the serene and idyllic 1950s, where Lucio (Luis Machín) works as a watchmaker in his childhood home he inherited at his parent’s passing. He lives there with his wife Diana (Esther Goris) whom he adores to no end. She’s troubled, however with an unnamed mental illness. She is overly preoccupied with dogs and overly attached to a professor named Standle (Enrique Piñeyro), whom she visits frequently.
Noticing her condition, Standle approached Lucio suggesting that she visits a “phrenopathic” clinic which will cure her in a matter of days, not over weeks, months, or years. Lucio resists, as he’s been separated from her before during hospitalizations in an attempt to get well. But he eventually gives in and Diana goes willingly and with hope.
Immediately, there are signs that something isn’t right. Lucio isn’t allowed to visits Diana, at all. And when Lucio is notified the cure is complete, he meets with the doctor in charge of her recovery, Dr. Samaniego (Carlos Belloso), who warns that while she’s cured, she will be different, have some characteristics she didn’t have before, and lack some of those that she did.
What starts as a quiet portrait of a family dealing with mental illness suddenly and almost imperceptibly, becomes a science-fiction horror film that is predictable, but fascinating until the end. It’s not hard to figure out what exactly happens to Diana, or where the film is going all together, but Asleep in the Sun is so beautifully crafted that you won’t care.
There are times when the camera makes the audience take the point of view of certain characters in a wonderfully inventive way. And similarly to what David Lynch did in the opening of Mulholland Dr., it takes quite a while before we find out the significance of these moments, and what they mean. Also akin to Mulholland Dr., some of it is up to interpretation.
As a period piece, if the term can be used to describe the piece, it’s wonderfully set, down to the cars on the street, furniture and hospital equipment. The film is also very well written with strong performances all around carrying the solid script. It sets a great tone and mood that helps engage us completely, as we sit glued to our seats.