Friday, April 20, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Sunday’s Illness

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Sunday’s Illness
Directed by Ramón Salazar
International Narrative Competition

Reuniting with a long-absent parent or long-lost child is always an intense experience, especially if one or both parties didn’t know about the identity or existence of the other until shortly before that time. There are people who spend decades searching for their birth parents even following positive upbringings by adoptive others, and some grow to resent a parent who walked out on their family at an early age. When that fateful meeting does finally happen, it can be a joyous or miserable experience, one that is sure to require a lot of processing and may ultimately do more damage than good, depending on whether both parties are equally happy to meet or see each other.

Anabel (Susi Sánchez) lives a very elite existence in Barcelona with her husband Bernabé (Miguel Ángel Solá) which is horribly disrupted during a fancy dinner party where one waitress reveals herself to be Chiara (Bárbara Lennie), Anabel’s daughter from her first marriage who she hasn’t seen in years. Thrown by her sudden and unexplained appearance, Anabel moves to safeguard all she has amassed from ruin by her potentially vindictive offspring, who in turn makes one simple request: for the two of them to spend ten days together. Initially resistant to the experience but determined to get through it, Anabel gradually opens up to getting to know the daughter she left at a young age as they sit quietly together in and around her childhood home, occasionally venturing to enlightening conversation.

There is a stark contrast between the way that Anabel lives and the amount of space that surrounds her and the simplicity of the small country house where Chiara has her come to get taken back down to reality. One of Chiara’s first acts is to deliberately pour her mother the wrong kind of wine before she knows who has infiltrated her composed life, something Chiara follows up later in the film by having her mother hold a stray dog while she pretends to accidentally turn the hose on her mother rather than the dog. It’s mainly just these two for the duration of the film, Anabel offering a steely resolve to deal with this unexpected reappearance and Chiara determined to make her mother realize the impact her absence has had on her life.

Spanish actresses Sánchez and Lennie both deliver performances that get to the heart of their characters, two women who have some sense of what they want in life and have had to either overcome or change their own circumstances in order to attain it. Watching them reluctantly get to know each other is an enlightening experience, if a painfully slow one. There are multiple moments at which the film seems ready to conclude on an impactful note, and by the time it does end, the journey feels worthwhile if a bit unnecessarily long.


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