Chilean Cinema 2013 #3: El Salvavidas (2011)

(Chile 2011 70m) Fidocs+Cinépata

p Paola Castillo, Daniela Sandoval, Karla Estrada d Maite Alberdi w Maite Alberdi, Sebastián Brahm c Pablo Valdés ed Alejandro Fernández Almendras

As I’ve said before in this feature, sometimes I’m in a difficult possition as to how and why I should review a chilean movie, specially when someone I know is involved in it, that makes it much more harder to even think, from the perspective of the reader, how much do you trust this individual writer and what does he have to say about the subject when he is in direct contact with the makers. That’s the main reason as to why I put some of the names of the cast and crew of the chilean movies I review in cursive, that means that I know, have been taught or actually worked with any of those people, and in this case the director and writer of this film, Maite Alberdi, was the helper of my teacher of Documentary Workshop (and also producer of this film, Paola Castillo), and was also student of my own career (although she did enter quite a few years earlier). So, as you might guess, I want this movie to do well, and I hope that anyone who reads it has the chance to see it, but I’m not going to go out of my way to call it a masterpiece or one of the greatest documentaries that has ever been made, because it’s not, it’s not even one of the greatest chilean documentaries that has ever been made, it’s a good and entertaining documentary that may find its way in a list of the best chilean movies released in 2013, but I won’t lie and say that this movie will find its way in history and on the recounts of the best chilean movies in history once the world comes to an end… but it’s worth seeing, and when I saw it last year as part of the online showing of certain films that played at the Fidocs Film Festival 2012, I felt satisfied but at the same time a bit dissapointed due to the kind of hype that had from the 2011 version of the Valdivia Film Festival, that I didn’t attend.

The documentary follows the story of a lifeguard during a few days in a beach in Chile, but it not only does that, it also manages to give an overview of feelings and situations that seem that seem that can only happen in Chile and in chilean beaches in particular, but it does tell a lot about us as humanity at the same time, specially when it comes to everyday situations that maybe one day we must confront: jealousy and cowardice. The lifeguard that gives the title to the film is a funny little character with dreadlocks and that tries to boast his knowledge of his work towards anyone who wants (or doesn’t want) to hear him, either be people who are in the beach breaking the rules that he tries to impose so rigidly, the kids who admire the work that he does, or even other lifeguards that are nearby and who he hates because of their lack of attendance to the rules and status of the other lifeguards and the organization to which they respond to. Here we are left with an interesting film and an even more interesting character (chosen between hundreds and hundreds of lifeguards from all over the coast of Chile) that mix together in an interesting and even at times conflicting watch, specially when the conventions and the shooting style are that of a film that can be nearer to fiction, and certain situations are (for those in the know) quite fake or maybe just too real for them to happen in front of the camera. Besides, there is something about the frontality of certain scenes, particulary those regarding the common people enjoying the beach, where the cinematography, the editing and the shooting style make it similar to those of the television sitcom, and while I do think that the approach is interesting, it confuses me when it’s catalogued as part of a documentary.

Regarding that last subject, there was certain controversy in festivals and reviews regarding how much of the documentary was staged and how much was real, and I can tell you that from what I heard during the time I was with Maite in the class, she told us examples of documentary filmmaking through the experience of making this film, and I know for a fact that the film is scripted, in the sense that they know that they have to shoot certain scenes, that they must happen in some time or another and that they should make as much work as possible so that it happens, it wasn’t a dialogue script but it was a situation script, they knew that for their film to tell what they wanted to tell, someone had to drown in the beach, just to see what happens with our lifeguard, how he reacts and what he ends up doing, and what happens is shocking, but at the same time understandable when we end up knowing him more and more as the movie progresses. I liked the way that there was a decission from early on that there wasn’t going to be one shot of the ocean (frontal shot that is) in the whole film, as we always take place of the spectator, which becomes an interesting experience, as we are watching the watchers, but we never see the object of intent, as we all (or I’d guess that most of us) already know: the sea, the infinity, a object of cinephilia in itself, here relegated to outside of the frame, the sea is us who watch the movie. That is an interesting thought.

8/10

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