The Chilean entrant for best foreign film at the 83rd Academy Awards (with Danish feature In A Better World winning out over eventual nominees Outside The Law, Dogtooth, Incendies and Biutiful), The Life Of Fish (La vida de los peces) is a tender, touching and thoughtful tale of people and possibilities. Garnering significant international acclaim in addition to its status as Chile’s fifteenth Oscar submission (including the 2011 Goya statuette for best Spanish language feature, and considerable praise on the festival circuit), writer / director Matías Bize’s eighth effort, co-scripted with Room In Rome‘s Julio Rojas, ponders things that could have been, opportunities that fail to eventuate, ideas that linger in the memory, and actions that inevitably have both positive and negative repercussions.
On a brief sojourn to his home town to attend to errands, jet-setting travel writer Andrés (Santiago Cabrera, TV’s Heroes) takes the opportunity to connect with old friends. Attending a birthday party for a childhood buddy, he strikes up a series of conversations with pals once crucial to his everyday activities, with the discussion naturally turning to reminiscent recollections of a time ten years prior when the now disconnected gang’s communal outlook and abundant enthusiasm shaped their optimistic world view. As the evening progresses amidst an endless array of nostalgic remembrances, buried truths and latent feelings come to the fore. At the centre is a tragedy that still binds the group together, yet provided the motivation for Andrés’ retreat into isolation a decade before. After encountering his girlfriend of the time, the luminous Beatriz (Blanca Lewin, a veteran of soap opera Lola), Andrés is no longer able to avoid the ghosts of events long passed. Ridden with regrets, he is forced to face his demons in order to move forward with a genuine sense of hope.
Unravelling as a series of increasingly intimate and intricate discussions between Andrés and his assortment of acquaintances, The Life Of Fish exists as an exploration of the culmination of the past, present and future. Occurring in real time, the understated and atmospheric feature examines the bittersweet reality of early and established maturation, as well as the unavoidable impact when hallmarks of mortality and markers of unfulfilled dreams come calling. With a title derived from the aquatic centrepiece that captures much of the characters’ contemplative focus, the film resembles the works of Richard Linklater in content and context. Indeed, just like the protagonists that populate the similarly themed Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, The Life Of Fish abounds with adults simply coming to terms with their surroundings, in a peaceful and poignant experience certain to connect with viewers on a universal level.
The Life Of Fish is currently screening in Australia as part of the Spanish Film Festival. Further information is available on the festival website and blog, where this review first appeared.