Chilean filmmaker Dominga Sotomayor Castillo’s assured feature debut takes place almost entirely within the confines of a car. It’s a road trip film from the back seat point of view of 10-year-old Lucia (Santi Ahumada), who observes her parents as they sit in the front seat, seen mostly in profile or even wandering out of frame.
Lucia shares the back of the station wagon with her 7-year-old brother. And she’s stuck there except for the occasional, coveted moment when she gets to sit next to Dad as he drives, or go behind the wheel when he’s feeling generous and patient about guiding the car. Beautifully photographed by Bárbara Álvarez, the film gives us the world from Santiago to a vacation spot up north as Lucia observes it through the windows of the car, from behind the glass of a roadside eatery, or through the mesh of a tent when the family stops for a night of camping.
But what’s the purpose of the four-day road trip? Though the dialogue is sparse, from the tension between her parents (Paola Giannini and Francisco Pérez-Bannen) and the snatches of conversation Lucia picks up, it seems as though this family vacation could be their last. Her father tells her they’re headed to his childhood home, but it’s not clear if he will be returning once he’s there. There are allusions to a breakup. He comments on his wife’s flirting with an old boyfriend; she retorts that he, too, will one day find someone else. Car games and excitement over a stopover at a beach give way to silence and a general feeling of sadness inside the car. In one exhilarating moment, the two children ride atop the luggage on the roof, peering over the rim at their parents through the windshield. It’s a moment fraught with freedom and peril. This is territory Sotomayor seems to know well: Her 2009 short film “Videogame” was told from the perspective of a boy who loses himself in electronic entertainment while his divorcing parents split up their belongings.
The naturalistic acting is uniformly good, but Ahumada is most memorable. Fresh-faced, wise, and sensitive, she is the antithesis of the manufactured precocious adolescent in Hollywood films. Whether soaking up bits of information or telling her parents she knows what they’re talking about, Lucia is at the moment when childhood innocence dissolves into the perilous, mysterious world of adults.