Julio, an aspiring but unproductive young writer, meets with Gazmuri, an established author seeking someone to type up the manuscript of his latest novel. Julio doesn't get the job, but in an attempt to save face he leads his neighbour and lover, Blanca, to believe that he is still transcribing Gazmuri's novel. In fact, Julio is writing his own version of the novel, entitled 'Bonsai'. In need of a plot, he recalls his relationship with Emilia, a bright fellow literature student who died eight years earlier, and as his memories of their youthful romance are shaped and refined, the writing of the novel unlocks a sequence of flashbacks in which reality and fiction, past and present intertwine.
Literature is romantic and it can also bring forth romance. Consider Proust as the spark that starts the fire in the Chilean film ‘Bonsai’, adapted from the popular novel of the same name by Alejandro Zambra. The film begins with a young man who on instinct admits to having read Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ – not true. This is Julio (Diego Noguera) and he is listless. In comes Emilia (Natalia Galgani) who says she actually read the same Proust but who knows if that’s only a come-on line to Julio’s pickup. We are then swept in their young love; in fact, Emilia is Julio’s first love and he has just narrated that she will eventually die.
Cut to eight years later where Julio, now a full-grown man, is tasked to translate a famous author Gazmuri’s novel only to lose the job. But Julio has a girlfriend next-door and he wants to keep her interested in him and what he supposedly does.
So, like before to get a girl, he lies yet again; this time he says Gazmuri’s novel –titled ‘Bonsai’ too- is his and he continues typing the manuscript as if he wrote it himself. There is an uncanny resemblance to Julio’s experience though: ‘Bonsai’ the novel is about a young man who discovers that his first girlfriend has just died.
Writer-director Cristian Jimenez knows how to make a film about first love. We are drawn in by Julio and Emilia’s innocence that turns into intimacy. It’s beautiful and exciting as well as fleeting because Julio has just told us death looms. Seeing Julio and Emilia in love, you don’t want them to be apart and yet like in life, reality will sink in. ‘Bonsai’ is a film about a writer –a person who writes stories, for others it’s called telling lies- and it is also Julio’s relaxing hobby (he cares for bonsais as therapy.) Like the bonsai, Julio is fixated on his young days and even first love; as if he can’t get away from it now that he’s an adult, it’s still part and parcel of his life.